Just because it's pretty doesn't mean it's well designed

Ordering Lunch is hard. Please don't make it any harder.

 This man looks into the camera, as if to say, "I can't eat moods for lunch, where is the goddamn  salad menu. "  (Source:  drsmood.com )

This man looks into the camera, as if to say, "I can't eat moods for lunch, where is the goddamn salad menu.(Source: drsmood.com)

I work in Midtown Manhattan, and I'm uncomfortable with just how comfortable I become paying well over $10 for lunch. $10! And I'm vegetarian; I'm not even paying for meat. It's the best scam NYC has sold me, and because I'm too lazy to pack a lunch, I have no recourse but to "explore new restaurants" in an effort to justify my spending.

Today's exploit: Dr Smood. Yes ,that is the real name of this place. Yes, it also sounds like Snood, the game you wasted your life playing in 2001. Well+Good has pitched Dr Snood as the "buzzier, anti-inflammatory Panera," which is perfect for me, because I am constantly inflamed by Panera and yet never leave buzzed. This sounded right up my alley.

And at first glance, it looks right up my alley too. It's a lovely space - the counters a marble(esque), the upholstered armchairs are well-worn but not too well-worn, and the bookshelves display the products (coffee? Water? Non FDA reviewed supplements?) beautifully. It’s reminiscent of a 1920's apothecary, which is quite charming, so long as the 2010’s air conditioning is working. The air conditioning wasn't working. It's August in NYC - these people are melting.

 Logo for Dr Smood - no answer is he's related to Dr Feelgood  (Source:  drsmood.com )

Logo for Dr Smood - no answer is he's related to Dr Feelgood (Source: drsmood.com)

Design wise, the logo is fine but not groundbreaking. Dr Smood is typset in clean, monoweight geometric sans-serif - nothing revolutionary to see here, but not everything needs to be. Keeping it black and white and pairing it with a serif makes it feel more skincare than cafe, (maybe the “doctor” in Dr Smood is making my head go in that direction) but for the audience they want to appeal to it’s an appropriate, high-end direction.  All the supporting imagery is healthy foods and flowers casually tossed on a marble background, to remind you that this is, in fact, a restaurant and not the Body Shop.

 I am very excited to eat beauty for breakfast.   (Source:  drsmood.com )

I am very excited to eat beauty for breakfast.  (Source: drsmood.com)

If all of this sounds pretentious and obnoxious to you, that’s because it is. It’s designed to be - it’s why they can charge $8 for a Beauty Smoody (YES, that’s what they call them). But pretentious, upscale eateries are slowly becoming the bread and butter of midtown, so that alone is not enough to avoid it.

What IS enough to make you avoid it is everything else.

  • The menu has a design system that does not actually organize the information or help you make decisions.

So this is their thing - moods. (Get it? Dr. Smood?? I get it now). They have six moods: Power, Beauty, Immunity, Detox, Energy, Health. They take up an entire portion of the menu to explain and color code these moods. Only problem is a) the moods are not moods, and b) the moods don’t actually help me decide what to order.  

Example: all the coffee is tagged Energy - NO SHIT. I already knew that - what I need to know is which coffee makes me beautiful. Or gives me immunity. That is a coffee I will pay more for.

This isn’t exactly a new way to organize products, but the idea seems half realized - if an entire category of foods falls under one “mood,” having to color code each item seems a bit redundant. If the moods are the main point of organizing, the system could be built mood-first - showcasing what sandwich, salad, and drink options fit each mood, rather than dumping all the sandwiches on the last page and having me flip over to the front to remember what mood “green” is.

  • The menu board has footnotes

Don’t put footnotes on your menu. This is not a research paper and I already feel like I’m in a pharmacy - upping the clinical atmosphere is not upping my appetite. There are better ways to present additional information about your products; call it out on the packaging, or on the environment as part of the decor. And if you have to put footnotes on your menu, put them in order! The menu boards have footnote 2 first, then 1, then 3. You can solve this problem by not using footnotes.

  • The menu is missing salads

They didn’t put salads on the menu. They sell salads. This seems like an oversight.

  • There is no order to ordering

This is probably the biggest problem, and one that needs to be resolved. Lunch time in midtown east is nuts. 200,000 people work here, and despite having office jobs that really let them eat lunch at anytime, they all want to do it at 12:15. All of them. If you don’t have an efficient system for ordering in place, you’re in trouble.

The thing is, people don’t mind waiting if it’s structured. There are lots of places that have the lunch-rush down pat: Dos Toros has a “seven minutes from the point” sign like you’re waiting to ride Splash Mountain; Potbelly has extra staff taking orders in line via iPad so that when you reach the front of the line your food is ready to go. These are well oiled machines that have taken the necessary steps to ensure a smooth operation, be it signage, extra staff, or additional procedures.

I’m not asking for all that - I’m asking for an “Order Here” sign and a “Pick-up Here” sign. These are easy to make. These could even be displayed over lovely photos of food and flowers.  

  • Everything tastes bland

Okay, this isn’t a design thing but since this is a restaurant review I should probably mention it. The Beauty Smoody tasted like water. The Matcha Latte also tasted like water. Those two things should not taste the same! And the performance bread? It tasted like crackers, and not performance crackers, just average, bland crackers. The hummus was fine, I guess.

Mood: Ineffiecent

Takeout options in midtown have to be fast. I need to order fast, be able to order fast, and get my food fast. If the visuals don’t help me find the salads, and they don’t help me know where to go to wait for my performance bread, then it doesn’t matter how nice the aesthetic is. Dr Smood is pretty on the surface and a bit of a mess underneath; a perfect description of my ideal tinder match, but not what I’m looking for in a lunch spot.