If you’ve ever had dim sum before, you might know that it is at the heart of Cantonese cuisine. Small baskets of food are served at breakfast or lunchtime, all washed down with tea. The most traditional restaurants have push carts that come to your table, a ‘reversed buffet’ if you will. The most common way these days is to fill out an order form. I have collected a few of these over the years.
Dim sum order forms serve several purposes: for customers to see what options are available; for customers to place their order through a waiter; for the kitchen to prepare the food to order; for the cashier to tally up the bill. So the same form has to be designed in a way that serves the needs of at least four different types of users.
Categorisation is very important for dim sum order forms. Dim sums come in different categories: small, medium, large, deluxe, sweets, rice flour rolls, etc., and are differentiated not by portion size but by price. Prices and availability of certain dishes may also vary depending on time of day or day of week. A price list may be printed directly on the form, or provided separately. Things may just get a bit complicated.
Paramount Banquet Hall
As dim sum order forms also serve as menus, a price-oriented categorisation might not be the most ideal for the customer. In this example, the main categories are steamed dishes, deep-fried dishes, congee, rice flour rolls, sweets, and snacks. The snacks category is rather ambiguous (aren’t all dim sums snacks?), and it seems that they are separated into their own category because the dishes are only available after 11:00am, and are at a different price ($38 for all dishes, repeated 16 times beside the names of the dishes). The prices of the dishes in the other categories are not shown in dollars, but in the price categories (small, medium, large and deluxe), shown in red Chinese characters in brackets. The dishes with pictures arranged on the peripherals of the form are highlights and special offers, making them more attractive. The three dishes at the top of the page are time-limited special offers: 8:30–11:30am; 11:00am–2:00pm; 2:10pm–4:00pm. Shouldn’t they have different versions of the form for different time periods, and only put them out on the tables at the respective hours? Perhaps, but this all-in-one form also allows the customer to see what’s available at other times, so that next time they may come at a different time to enjoy the special offers.
This is a lunchtime special form from the same restaurant. In addition to dim sums, other types of dishes are offered in different combinations. This form does take a moment to figure out. There are four prices, named ‘Double’, ‘Triple’, ‘Quadruple’ and ‘Quintuple’, corresponding to the five groups of dishes. Under each group, one may choose only one or up to four items. It’s almost like a test that we have to pass before we are rewarded with the food!
Talking about tests, this example is exactly like a computerised multiple choice test. There are instructions on the top of the form, demonstrating the correct way to mark the dishes: putting a short horizontal line through the number of dishes desired. What if you want to order more than three dishes?
It gets more complicated. This form even allows you to fill out how many pieces of food you would like for each dish, in addition to the usual units of ‘basket’ (if steamed), ‘dish’ or ‘portion’ (does it really matter what container the food comes in?). But the red text actually says the minimum order for all dim sum is one basket or dish. This is confusing: so if we order three baskets of ‘steamed glutinous rice in lotus leaf’, do we need to multiply it by two pieces per basket, therefore 3 × 2 = 6? Or do they mean that one could order two baskets plus one extra piece? And how much would the extra piece cost? It’s not mentioned on the form.
Seemingly trivial, but it’s all about customer experience.