Chris wrote me about the menu at Cliff’s Grill in Houston. He wants to make sure the punctuation is correct and sent me a brief description of the patty melt burger. Here it is:
Beef patty, grilled onions and Swiss cheese, served on grilled rye bread
Chris had second thoughts about the comma before the word served. He wondered whether it should be a dash, like this:
Beef patty, grilled onions and Swiss cheese–served on grilled rye bread
What do you think? Comma, dash, or no punctuation before served?
The current Cliff’s Grill menu uses a comma, and I agree with it. The dash feels too abrupt. It feels like an elbow to the rib, saying, “Hey, this burger comes on grilled rye bread!” Menus need delicious, smooth descriptions–not efficient, sharp-edged blurbs.
Yes, punctuation creates pace and feelings: smooth, slow, careening, jarring, gentle. I am thinking of the wonderful punctuation story recounted in Lynne Truss’s Eats, Shoots & Leaves. It seems that writer James Thurber was questioned about the comma in this sentence: “After dinner, the men went into the living room.” He defended the comma and his New Yorker editor, Harold Ross, like this: “This particular comma was Ross’s way of giving the men time to push back their chairs and stand.”
I applaud Chris for wanting to get that menu punctuation correct. If he keeps it correct and consistent, he will avoid causing indigestion in any former and current English teachers who might have their hearts set on a nicely punctuated Patty Melt or a correctly spelled Turkey Reuben (yes, Reuben is spelled with an eu). And after a good meal, as Thurber would have it, everyone will get up from the table, satisfied with the menu in more ways than one.
Good luck, Chris. You are facing a noble challenge.