Saturday, November 18, 2023

The Menu was the Message


The advent of the postcard provided the hospitality industry with innovative ways to advertise. One of the unique formats that emerged i
n the early 1900s was the attachment of postcards to menus. This concept was particularly suited to table d’hôtel menus that did not have prices. Once ubiquitous, table d’hôtel menus were still being used at hotels and resorts that operated on the so-called American Plan, meaning room and board were included in the daily rate. Such hostelries traditionally promoted the abundance of their board to attract guests, something the postcard-menu combination was ideally suited to do.

Table d’hôtel menus changed daily and were dated, as shown by this example from August 23, 1904. Wesley House was one of the numerous resort hotels that opened on Martha’s Vineyard in the mid-nineteenth century. The postcard was not separated from the menu when it was mailed. The bill of fare was the message.

The postcard below from Atlanta’s Piedmont Hotel in 1905 instructs the sender, “For mailing, tear off here.” Interestingly, this type of instruction was not employed when the format gained broader adoption. Hotel proprietors seemingly preferred that the postcard be mailed with the menu attached.

The menu below from the Mountain Park Hotel in Hot Springs, North Carolina was mailed with the postcard in July 1907. Once again, the medium was the message. 

In October of 1907, the Universal Postal Congress decreed that postcards could have messages on the left half of the address side. As a result, the United States permitted a vertical line on the back to create a space for the written message. It was a major change that ushered in the “Golden Age of Postcards,” or the Divided Back Period (1907-1915), when postcards were immensely popular.

The example below comes
 from the Harrington Hotel in Port Huron, Michigan in 1908. Utilizing the new section for messages, the sender wrote, “Don’t you think I could select something good from this,” thereby directing attention to the bill of fare where checkmarks indicated the dishes that he or she ordered.

By the mid-1880s, hotels were beginning to adopt the European Plan, which meant meals were no longer included.
In 1908, the Broadway Central claimed it was the only hotel in New York City that still operated on the American Plan. Its table d’hôtel menu also served as a fixed price menu for diners not staying at the hotel. As shown, the price for dinner was 75 cents on Sundays, the only day of the week (other than Thanksgiving) that the hotel employed the postcard-menu format. The Broadway Central, which was originally named the Grand Central when it opened in 1870, is remembered today as the site where the National League of major league baseball was formed.

comic postcards below were part of a series about the trials and tribulations of the early automobile. The illustrated cardstock provided a blank space for the name and location of the hotel, as shown by these examples from the lavish Chittenden Hotel in Columbus, Ohio in 1907 and Rockland House at Nantasket Beach, Massachusetts in 1909. Rockland House was once the largest summer hotel in the country. 

While postcards celebrating St. Patrick’s Day were common, it was unusual for American menus to commemorate this holiday. These examples come from the Milwaukee Hotel and Waukesha Hotel in Hot Springs, Arkansas on St. Patrick’s Day in 1911 and 1912, respectively. 

The Chamberlin Hotel overlooked Hampton Roads at Old Point Comfort, Virginia. Its cards featured views of the resort and local military sights, as shown by the menus below from 1912 and 1913, when the U.S. Postal Service was delivering more than nine hundred million postcards a year.

Although the postcard-menu had mostly faded from use by 1917, they could still be found at places like The Ferguson
, a temperance hotel on Cape Cod, where it appears the cuisine was nothing to write home about. 

The postcard-menu enjoyed a revival at two resort hotels in southern California in the 1920s. The Virginia Hotel at Long Beach provided its version with an adhesive-backed tab to hold it together for mailing.

Chewing gum magnate William Wrigley Jr. owned Catalina Island, and the St. Catherine Hotel on which it stood. His ownership is reflected on these menus from 1927 and 1931 by the postprandial suggestion, “After every meal…Wrigley’s.”

Postcards are a visual resource for social historians. One of the interesting aspects of the postcard-menu combination is that the postcard was often mailed with the menu still attached, reflecting a time when dining out was a noteworthy experience for the rising middle class.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great to see these postcards. I don't think I've ever run across them at postcard shows!