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Restaurant Menu Collection

Identifier: SCA-0047

Scope and Content

The Restaurant Menu collection at Queens College is a diverse collection spanning eighty plus years and several continents. What truly sets the Queens Libraries’ Special Collection apart from other collections is the large collection of present-day to-go or take-out menus spanning the United States but with its highest concentrations in the five boroughs of New York City. Arguably, more ephemeral in nature than larger bound dine-in menus, these culinary relics can aide in the telling stories of our communities. These menus speak to us about immigration, assimilation and gentrification. They underscore food habits and trends and give insight into the current economic and technological advances of a given community. The collection also houses more traditional bound menus, laminated objects and those in plastic enclosures. There is also a collection of photographs generously donated from the Gimbel Library, Parsons School of Design.


  • 1938-2013



English, Chinese, French, Italian, Spanish, Japanese, German.


Collection is open for research. Staff may restrict access at its discretion on the basis of physical condition.


The Restaurant Menu collection is physically owned by the Queens College Libraries. Literary rights, including copyright, belong to the authors or their legal heirs and assignees. The collection is subject to all copyright laws. Queens College assumes no responsibility for the infringement of copyrights held by the original authors, creators, or producers of materials.

Historical Note

Although the word menu originated from the French language, the first uses of restaurant menus, or what one could recognize as a 21st century restaurant menu, finds its origins in China. During the Song Dynasty street vendors would list the delicacies merchants could find inside. This allowed patrons to choose between a variety of options versus going to street vendors which often specialized in one item (Civitello, 2004). It might also be argued that China was a leader in the creation of a form of printed menu as they also excelled in the development of paper making and movable type.

However, the printed menu did not spread throughout the world quickly. In smaller tavernas across Europe, daily dishes were often verbalized to customers or were written on boards outside. As printing became easier and cheaper, printed menus not only became more popular but also acted as opportunities for restaurants to show-off their respective dishes (Grimes, 2007). Of course menus have always served practical purposes: listing dishes, prices, and in some cases a small definition of the dish, restaurant menus certainly serve a use beyond practicality. Restaurants owners and chefs use menus to help define the current cuisine culture.

Depending on ones’ geographical location and dining choice, the 21st century menu can take on a number of different forms. Perhaps it is a leather bound menu, almost novella in size, listing fine steaks and chops, or a single sheet of paper listing a handful of empanadas; or all the incarnations in-between. The ever-changing style of the menu is often reflective of other trends in print culture. Archiving restaurant menus helps to trace the emergence and continued popularity or disappearance of certain restaurant types- which helps to better understand trends in immigration and migration, neighborhood gentrification, and related economic trends. Restaurant menus also inform us about culinary culture and reveal our own personal and familial cultures by documenting the where and what of the meals underscoring a sense of culinary nostalgia.

Sources Consulted: Civitello, L. (2003). Cuisine and culture: A history of food and people. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Grimes, W. (2009). Appetite City: A culinary history of New York. New York: North Point Press


7 Linear Feet


The Restaurant Menu collection is an intentional collection aggregated over several decades and consists of materials and objects spanning from 1938 to the present. The collection is made-up largely of paper-based ephemeral objects.


The geographical location is the most basic and hierarchical element to the menu collections arrangement plan. The sub-series (or sub-sub series in some instances) are defined by cuisine.

Series I: New York State

Series II: New York City Subseries I: Bronx Subseries II: Brooklyn Subseries III: Manhattan Subseries IV: Queens

Series III: New Jersey

Series IV: Other United States

Series V: International Subseries I: Foreign Language Subseries II: Travel Menus

Series VI: Restaurant Photography Collection

Series VII: Culinary History Books


The majority of menus were donated to the collection by various donors over several decades. Brian Murray, Christopher Smith and Sara Howard all made significant contributions to the collection, as well as The New School, Parsons School of Design, and the Gimbel Library.

Special Formats



Restaurant Menu Collection
Processed by Sara Howard, Spring 2013, edited and approved by Alexandra Dolan-Mescal, Summer 2013. Machine-readable finding aid created by Dan Brenner, Fall, 2014.
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script
Language of description note
English, Chinese, French, Italian, Spanish, Japanese, and German.

Repository Details

Part of the Queens College (New York, N.Y.) Special Collections and Archives Repository

Queens College Library, CUNY
Benjamin Rosenthal Library RO317
65-30 Kissena Boulevard
Flushing 11367 USA us