I recently went into a Ricky’s restaurant for breakfast. This was the menu description for their Double Egger plate:
Two eggs with shredded hash browns and toast or pancakes
I ordered the Double Egger with pancakes. When it arrived at my table, the plate had just eggs and pancakes, so I asked about my hash browns. The waitress explained to me that if one ordered pancakes, one did not get hash browns.
Do you see the problem? This is not what the menu says. The way the menu description is phrased, the only option is between toast and pancakes. The hash browns are not linguistically tied to the toast in any way.
Later, I checked the online Ricky’s menu to see if the description was any better there. It reads:
2 eggs, with shredded hash browns and toast OR 3 of our famous buttermilk pancakes
So, it seems this pancakes/hashbrowns issue must have come up before, and the comma and that big, capitalized OR are their attempts to make the description more clear. But it’s still not right. That comma after eggs is there to try to indicate that the eggs are the only constant, and that the hashbrowns and toast are a unit. But (a) that comma is wrong, and (b) it still doesn’t quite make the message clear. And putting OR in all caps still doesn’t tie the hash browns and toast together (though this description would probably make me ask to confirm). It would be such a simple fix. All they need to say is:
Two eggs with either toast and hashbrowns or pancakes.
Either! That’s what the word is for — to indicate a choice between two things!
The moral of the story is that what you show to your customers (or potential customers) is only worth printing if it’s easy to understand. I would have been perfectly happy to order toast and hashbrowns, if I’d know it was that or pancakes. Instead, Ricky’s got a cranky customer. A good editor can save you from this kind of mistake — which could turn out to be a lifesaver, especially if the part that’s unclear is worth a lot more than hash browns!
P.S. In the end, after explaining to the manager why the menu was wrong, I got my hash browns. 😉