Standing outside your restaurant, or browsing your establishment online, your menu can be a make-or-break moment for diners when they’re figuring out if your dishes are worth their money and time. And this purely comes down to their imagination alone when reading through the menu description.
A well-described menu not only wins customers over, but it also helps set your restaurant apart. This makes your offerings unique and justifies its price point. Good descriptions are also quick to understand – so, instead of feeling stuck or confused, your customers have time to browse your other dishes and this increases the chance of them ordering more.
Here’s how you can leverage on the exciting opportunity of food menu descriptions and boost your business.
1. Keep Menu Descriptions Short and Sweet
Dishes should be described in a clear, simple way that also piques the diner’s interest. Use short descriptions that communicate the high-impact flavours of your dishes at a glance. These should be flavours that first come to mind when tasting the dish, as well as flavours that are well-received by diners.
There are two main ways that restaurants in Singapore come up with their menu descriptions.
The first is to describe cooking methods, and common food adjectives include “juicy”, “succulent”, “tender”, “fiery”, “secret” and more. Consider the following examples:
Stir Fried Seasonal Vegetables accompanied by Signature Fiery Black Pepper Sauce
Such menu descriptions are common in chain establishments such as Collins, Astons and Swensen’s.
On the other hand, independent restaurants tend to have a shorter and simpler menu description consisting of the main protein, cooking method, and sauce. This is often done with the intent to have customers intrigued about the dishes, so that they will order it or find out more from the service staff. One example is:
Charred Free Ranged Chicken, Potato Mousseline, Dried Tomatoes, Baby Spinach, Chicken Jus.
The dish’s name should contain key items to give diners a clear idea of what the dish is. “Tim’s Special” should instead be “Tim’s Buffalo Wings Special”. Once diners have an idea of what the dish is, they’ll then naturally find out more about the dish via its description.
Tip: “Chef Specials” or Recommended dishes on the menu are often the most profitable. As slow-moving dishes are often those that are of a larger portion or more expensive, they are usually paired up into a set lunch or dinner, depending on the ingredients used. This simple strategy can help encourage your diners to order these dishes!
2. Use Food Adjectives to Engage the Senses and Excite the Palate
This tactic is especially important when trying to overcome the perception of “healthy” being interpreted as bland. The best menu descriptions kick guests’ senses into full gear and help them imagine the flavours of your dishes.
Think of ways on how you can combine words that describe taste (e.g. fruity, herbal, rich, spicy, smoky), texture (e.g. crispy, delicate, fluffy, juicy, smooth, tender) and preparation method (e.g. baked, caramelised, infused, poached, seared).
Make sure you opt for words that sound positive as these also have an impact on how your dishes are perceived. For example, say crispy instead of dry, velvety instead of greasy, hearty instead of tough, and tender instead of mushy!
3. Avoid Jargon that Separates the Customer from the Experience
Kitchen jargon can distract guests from visualising the dish, especially if these kitchen jargon are ones that are not widely known by diners. Imagine reading a menu description where you have no idea what it’s describing — diners are more likely to play it safe and order other dishes instead.
Always remember that taste is king, so focus more on flavour rather than culinary terms to draw out the most interest in your dishes.
Some words to avoid include: Soigne, bound salad, deglaze, egg wash, parboil, sweat.
While sous vide may be popular amongst diners, it is advisable to avoid using the phrase in your menu description as the equipment is now readily available on ecommerce platforms for diners to try on their own at home. Instead, consider rephrasing, such as:
36-hour Slow-cooked Pork Belly, Charred Brussels Sprouts, Hummus, Coriander Jus
It’s also a good idea to double-check with your friends or family that are not in the food industry to ensure that regular diners are able to understand your menu descriptions accurately.
4. Stay Real: Know Your Brand Voice and Customers
Your menu descriptions should match the restaurant brand voice you want to portray to your guests. Here’s an example of the same dish, described in two different styles:
A – Wholesome and rustic: “Noona’s Heart Pomodoro Pasta with Mussels”
B – Rustic and Instagram-worthy: “Grandma’s Inspired Mussels Pot Pasta with Olives and Grated Parmesan.”
Take some time to think about your customers. Is your food catered to a specific type of audience? For example, if you’re targeting Gen Zs, your phrasing would differ greatly from writing for boomers. Being more in line with your customers will help you connect your offerings way more effectively.
5. Mention Brand Names that Guests are Familiar With
In some but not all cases, it’s appropriate to mention brand names within your menu descriptions so your guests know you only buy the best ingredients. Knowing and featuring the brands your guests love is a great way to draw them into a menu item.
Example: The Classic Club – Toasted whole wheat with thinly sliced turkey, crispy bacon, fresh lettuce and tomato with Best Foods Real Mayonnaise.
6. Take Your Food Description One Step Further with a Story
One way to take your “sell copy” up a notch is to include a story behind the particular dish or ingredient. While this may seem like a dauting task for many chefs, there’s no need to panic.
This story does not have to be a grand one. In fact, it would be best if there’s someone to note down the chef’s story while he’s busy in the kitchen. It could be something as simple as “the chef used this recipe for his child’s first birthday party”, “the chef’s mother created it”, or “the chef had this idea while on vacation in Texas”.
This can then be edited to enhance your existing food description, giving your dish its own personality and makes it more appealing, which also translates to a higher chance of being ordered.