Menus are tough to write. But when done well, amazing menu descriptions can have a positive impact on your restaurant's bottom line.
Restaurant consultant Allen H. Kelson sums this up perfectly:
“If [advertisers] had souls, many would probably trade them for an opportunity every restaurateur already has: the ability to place an advertisement in every customer’s hand before they part with their money.”
Menu descriptions are a wonderful opportunity to make sure your customers are getting the most out of their experience dining at (or ordering takeout from) your restaurant.
Here are some important points to consider so you can make the most of the opportunity to sell not only your food, but your concept!
1) Keep it Connected
Guests love to feel familiar with your dishes.
While menu descriptions should be consistent with your concept (quick/full service, fine dining, casual, etc), there is a common theme with successful menus that drive business: your guests want to feel connected to their food. They want a sense of familiarity, of comfort.
There are many ways concepts can attain this goal, as referenced in an article by NY Times about the role psychology plays in menu writing.
Specify the Brand
Chain restaurants have been "co-branding," or highlighting the brands of ingredients they use, for ages. "Minute Maid Orange Juice" resonates much better with diners at casual places like Applebee's than "orange juice."
Recognize Family Contributions
Restaurants with some family history might do well by incorporating that into their menu descriptions. Former executive chef at Tabla in NYC had great success by highlighting menu items inspired by his mother, Boodie. "Boodie's Chicken Livers" and "Boodie's ketchup" were items that did very well, as customers at this fine dining establishment loved the personal connection with the chef's history and inspiration for his dishes.
Highlight the Source
Another way to personally connect diners with your food would be to highlight the source of your ingredients. This is similar to co-branding, but it showcases the local farms and other vendors rather than the better-known giants that Applebee's might use.
2) Stay True to the Concept
Your concept should drive your menu descriptions.
There are differing views on whether or not a menu should contain a lengthy, detailed description about each dish vs. a minimalist-style menu that encourages more questions.
Saloniki, a Greek-inspired fast casual restaurant, takes as much pride in its speed of service as it does with the quality of the menu items. To keep the line moving during a busy lunch rush, Saloniki put extreme detail into their menu items listed above the counter so guests can explore all their options while in line and place an order in a timely manner.
Bonus points for strong descriptions like "honey-garlic" and "zesty," immediately calling out vegan and vegetarian options, and highlighting their "just-made pita."
If you own a more elegant fine-dining restaurant, you might list the most important ingredients in a dish. Leaving some key information out – how something is cooked, for example – encourages guests to engage with the server and build a relationship.
This variation of menu descriptions is implemented by Sportello of the Barbara Lynch Gruppo, pictured below. The descriptions are simple, while the dining experience is anything but.
3) Know Your Audience
Know who your guests are, and cater to their needs.
Does your restaurant exist in middle-class suburb or a trendy, expensive block in the city? Are your guests mostly millennials, or are they coming from a few generations prior? Understanding these demographics will allow you to create descriptions that work for your clientele.
Restaurant consultant Robert Ancill explains in this article ways to communicate with different demographics – for example, a menu with larger typeface and brighter lighting at the restaurant can make all the difference if your crowd is primarily over 50 years old.
Consider keeping up with current dining trends in your area as well – should you indicate which items are gluten-free and dairy-free? Millennials, for example, eat much healthier than their more senior counterparts, according to Forbes Magazine. They make up 52% of organic product consumers, and also eat 52% more vegetables.
If your customer base leans strongly towards either end of the age spectrum, make sure you've got their interests in mind!
4) Get Rid of the Dollar Signs
Across the board, removing dollar signs has been a great way to get customers feeling less connected to spending and more connected to dining.
There is a lot of stress associated with spending money, and dining out should not add to that. Separate the money from your dishes, and your guests will relax into their meal.
Time to Write!
Writing an effective menu can be a great challenge. Gain a deep understanding of your customer base, and let this direct the way you communicate about your restaurant's offerings. Don't forget to have fun and enjoy this opportunity to help create a wonderful experience for your guests!
Click below to start making your restaurant menu stand out!