This weekend I had a Restaurant Experience where the menu was such a good example of the visual display of information that I wanted to share it.
To give some background - the restaurant offers two fixed price menus - a shorter "tasting" and a longer "tour," plus wine pairings for each. When you're seated, you are given a wine menu but no listing of the food courses. As each dish is brought to the table, the server describes the ingredients as well as how to approach the dish. We found ourselves wishing for a printed guide, because each time, a few minutes after the server left, we weren't able to remember the full list of what was in the dish. In addition, as the evening passed, we wanted to know how far along we had progressed in the tour, and we heard other diners asking the same question. The servers were happy to provide any information we wanted, but we definitely felt the need to have the map in front of us. (The "how far along am I?" question seems to be a basic human need - software installations, surveys, and overseas flights usually provide an indicator for this, and I've heard a recent convert to the Kindle talk about how he misses the clear and obvious way to tell how far you've come in a printed book just by seeing the relative thickness of the pages on either side of the bookmark, even though Kindle books have a status bar at the bottom.)
At the end of the meal, we learned the reason for no map before the tour - we were each presented with a custom printout of the menu we had experienced, including the specific wine pairings we had chosen and at which point they had been served. My dining companion had had to stop the tour several dishes before the end, and her printed menu ends where she stopped. (I would argue that the restaurant could provide both - generic map before and specific after.)
To get to my point about the visual display of information - the circles in the menu (see image) represent the portion size, and their location on the page represents the predominant flavor - savory on the left and sweet on the right.
I'd love to see other information represented here too - for example, prep time, or how local the product is (the source of the ingredients was emphasized throughout the tour). Colors and/or shading could be used (although I understand how the monochrome ink fits the overall design scheme of the restaurant).
As a side note, an idea I had as we progressed through the tour was that the dining table, rather than being black-painted wood, could be an interactive surface (in keeping with my the-future-is-a-table theme) where before each course is brought out, the areas of the table on which the dishes will be placed could light up in the exact footprint of the dishes. There was obviously a great deal of thought and creativity put into the design and variety of servingware; it would enhance the experience to see a sneak preview of the upcoming dish (or dishes) by seeing its unique outline lit up moments before the dish arrives. After the dishes are removed, the diner might have a few minutes to touch the outline to bring up information about the dish (not available before the dish was placed, of course) and even enter comments.