The Hype Man got me this week.
If you’re not sure what a Hype Man is, just picture Flava Flav, the guy from Public Enemy who sports the giant clock pendant and oversize sunglasses. His entire function in the band was to get the crowd going, praise the lead singer, and make the people want more.
I was shopping for canned cat food on Amazon, and one of the options was a case of “extra gravy!”-style “paté.” Click! Upon opening the first can, I realized that “extra gravy” simply meant less actual cat food and more stinky goo that somehow always ends up on your hand. The cats looked at me accusingly, and with good reason. They don’t know that Flava Flav was in my head yelling “EXTRA GRAVY, YEEAAH, BOIII!” when I ordered it.
Ving Rhames is Arby’s hype man these days. Bless their horsey sauce hearts, but you won’t catch me in an Arby’s. Not that I’m too fancy to eat fast food – I’m not! But I don’t find theirs to be particularly good. Still, when ol’ Ving starts his voice-over, on top of that slightly sinister, pompous marching band music in their commercial, I do sometimes start to think “wait, do I want a gyros from Arby’s?” and also “wait, you mean that isn’t James Earl Jones in the Arby’s ads?”
Every restaurant has a hype man. It’s the person who writes their menu descriptions. That might be the chef, but it also might be the owner, the owner’s spouse, the maître d’, or a PR firm. Or some poor line cook. Anyway, the job of the menu description hype man is to make everything sound so special you’ll beg them to take your money. “Sun-dried tomato aioli” is probably just mayonnaise with commercial dried tomatoes mixed in, and some salt and pepper if you’re lucky. (Also: does anybody think they actually dried those tomatoes in the sun? Ew. Nope. They were likely dried in an industrial dehydrator in a factory.)
If a dish is “served with organic concord grape conserve” that means we’re putting jelly on it before it comes to the table. Now, a lunch counter doesn’t get away with these menu embellishments without some side-eye, but smack a white tablecloth and an LED candle on the table and it’s a whole new premier world-class sporting event.
Upscale restaurant hype men know that overwrought descriptions mean dollars, and every additional adjective can add at least fifty cents to the price of the dish (and a dime to the tip). That’s how a nice piece of baked cod with rice and veg at $8.99 becomes “Wild Line-Caught Atlantic Cod with Beurre Blanc, Organic Sprouted Brown Rice Pilaf and Oven-Roasted Baby Vegetables” for $15.75 if you slosh some melted butter sauce over it. And if we ladle the sauce into a circular pool and drag a spoon through it, maybe you’ll pay $25!
Of course, not every restaurant hype man is a bald-faced liar, and I’m not saying every high-end menu description is bullshit. I mean, some of them have good information, but at an upscale place if you need to know what farm the lamb came from, your server should know or be able to find out quickly when queried. But most of these paragraph-long menu specs are far too flowery. Speaking of flowers, “garnished with edible flowers” always makes me laugh. I should hope we’re not putting inedible flowers on your plate.
Then there’s “hand-dipped ice cream” – yeah, I’ve got my eye on you over there behind the counter making my sundae with your feet. And my all-time favorite has to be the use of “fresh” as a descriptor. “Caesar Salad with Fresh Superlative Farms Romaine Lettuce” blah blah blah… it’d better be fresh! “Waiter – please take this brown lettuce away, I wanted fresh!”
But, in a way, those flowery descriptions can add to your experience somewhat; if nothing else, they look great in your Instagram caption. So please enjoy your local farm-sourced cruelty-free omelet with shaved smoked pork belly and butter scones with house-made forcemeat bechamel for $21.99. I’ll just be over here behind my newspaper loving my scrambled egg and bacon platter with biscuits and extra sausage gravy (yeahh, boiiii!) for $6.50, and giving the cashier a fat tip.
Marsha Lynch has worked at many Louisville independent restaurants including Limestone, Jack Fry’s, Jarfi’s, L&N Wine Bar and Bistro, Café Lou Lou, Marketplace @ Theater Square, Fontleroy’s and Harvest.