Give customers a taste with menu language that really sells.
The menu is your greatest sales tool. Whether it is a back-lit board in a quick-service restaurant or an embossed card in a white-tablecloth dining room, your menu is designed to sell the food that the kitchen prepares. How the menu is written and presented can be critical to the success of your operation. Mintel Menu Insights, provided by Mintel, a leading market-research company, calls out storytelling as a crucial element in today’s menu design, stating in its recent report, "By telling stories on the menu about a food’s origin, preparation methods or health benefits, foodservice establishments can help people feel good about what they’re eating and drinking."
Menu writing should be clear and precise without becoming overly verbose or flowery. It should provide enough information about the dish so that the customer can make a comfortable decision. It should be specific enough so that when the food is delivered it meets the customer’s expectations, but it should also reflect your operation’s sensibility.
Perhaps driven by tougher economic times, restaurateurs are making the connection for their customers between food and emotion on the menu. Again, according to Mintel Menu Insights, "By tying into consumer interests, restaurant owners can create an emotional connection that makes menu items more enjoyable. It also makes the menu item more memorable, giving people a reason to visit the restaurant again."
Comfort is another feeling that you can describe on your menu. The words "roasted" and "braised" bring to mind the comfort of Sunday family dinners. Roasted root vegetables is perhaps more appealing than parsnips and carrots. Try pan-roasted, slow-roasted or fire-roasted when describing cooking methods. "Braised" and "poached" suggest slow, attentive care. Make them even more evocative by calling out specific liquids in the menu description, for example beer-braised or red-wine braised.
According to Mintel Menu Insights, "homemade may be the new way to define freshness." Comparing menu language in the fast-casual segment from 2007 and 2008, "homemade" ranked high in the top-25 menu claims, jumping 14%. That list includes other language that suggests quality and craftsmanship, such as house, real, and seasonal. The word "real" showed the most significant percentage jump, with an increase of an astounding 138%.
Make it Sound Better
- Instead of fried, try crisp-fried
- Instead of deep fried, try hand-battered
- Instead of seared, try pan-seared, cast-iron seared
- Instead of baked ham try honey-glazed ham
- Instead of roast pork loin try maple-glazed pork loin
Share Your Sources
Describing the provenance of foods can be an effective way to enhance your menu writing, from regions and farms to prestige brands. Honesty in advertising is crucial here — do not represent something that is not 100% accurate.
- Maine diver scallops
- Alaska salmon
- Niman Ranch beef
- Berkshire pork
Show Your Green
With the huge concern about the environment, using menu language to describe dishes that feature sustainable foods is powerful.
- Line-caught fish
- Rainforest-Alliance Certified coffee
- Organic greens
- Rope-grown mussels
- Cage-free chickens
- Grass-fed beef
Your menu should reflect your philosophy and culinary approach. It should convey necessary information, but it must also represent a promise to deliver that what’s on paper is what will be delivered on the plate.