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How Emotional Menu Descriptions Affect Your Customer’s Appetites: Insights from Psychology and Neuroscience – Menu Engineering Part 4

Different techniques are used by restaurants to provide a memorable and enjoyable dining experience. How a menu is designedcan have a significant impact on a person’s perception of the restaurant and their openness to try new items on a menu, is one example.

It has become increasingly important for restaurant menu engineers to consider the emotional impact of menu item descriptions, believing that well-written descriptions can influence consumers’ decisions. Let’s explore how the psychology of emotional menu item descriptions can create more compelling menus that sell.

“Storytelling allows us to simulate intense experiences without having to live through them directly, and it activates the same neural networks that we use to navigate the real world.”

~ Cron

The Emotional Impact of Menu Item Descriptions.

Research has shown that the way in which menu items are described can have a significant impact on a person’s perception of that item. Emotional language is particularly effective in creating a positive perception of menu items, as it engages the brain’s emotional centers, making the dish more appealing and desirable. When we read an emotionally-charged description of a dish, the brain responds by releasing chemicals such as dopamine and oxytocin, which create a positive feeling and encourage us to want to try the dish.

“Emotions are not a luxury, they are essential to rational thinking and normal social behavior.”

~ Damasio

The Role of Emotion in Perception

There’s a strong relationship between emotion and perception. Our brains need to feel something in order to understand or comprehend it. And this is especially true when it comes to food. Our perception of food is not just based on its taste, but rather on a complex interplay between our sensory experiences, memories, and emotions. Emotions play an important part in our decision-making when it comes to food. They can influence how we decide between foods, our willingness to try something new, and even our enjoyment of the overall dining experience.

The Power of Storytelling in Menu Descriptions

As Lisa Cron points out in her book “Wired for Story: The Writer’s Guide to Using Brain Science to Hook Readers from the Very First Sentence,” all story is emotion-based. The same is true for menu item descriptions. By incorporating storytelling techniques into menu descriptions, restaurants can create an emotional connection with diners that goes beyond mere words on a page. Describing the history or cultural significance of a dish, for example, can create a sense of familiarity and comfort that makes the dish more appealing.

“Humans tend to avoid foods that are unfamiliar or unappealing, and to prefer foods that are associated with positive experiences or emotions.”

~ Rozin


The psychology of emotional menu item descriptions is a powerful tool for restaurants looking to create a more compelling and memorable dining experience. By incorporating emotional language, storytelling, sensory language, and authenticity into their menu descriptions, restaurants can engage diners on a deeper level and create a connection that goes beyond mere words on a page. In today’s competitive restaurant industry, creating a menu that sells is essential, and understanding the psychology of emotional menu item descriptions is an important step in achieving that goal.

“Menu design can have a significant impact on customers’ perception of food and drink, leading to increased sales and customer satisfaction.”

~ Ballester & Hughes

Recommendations for Restaurants

Based on the research discussed above, here are four recommendations for restaurants looking to create more compelling menu item descriptions:

  • Use emotional language: Use descriptive language that engages the emotions, such as “succulent,” “velvety,” or “crisp.” These adjectives create a positive association with the dish and make it more appealing.
  • Tell a story: Incorporate storytelling techniques into your menu descriptions to create a connection with diners. This could include describing the history of a dish, or the cultural significance of certain ingredients.
  • Use sensory language: Describing the aroma, texture, and flavor of a dish can engage the senses and create a more vivid description that makes the dish more appealing.
  • Be authentic: Use authentic language that reflects the restaurant’s brand and values. Diners are increasingly interested in the origin and authenticity of their food, so incorporating these elements into menu descriptions can make the dining experience more meaningful.

As a branding expert with a deep understanding of the psychology and neuroscience of menu engineering, I can help you craft menu descriptions that resonate with your customers’ emotions and drive sales. Whether you’re looking to revamp your existing menu or create a new one from scratch, I can provide the expertise and guidance you need to stand out in a crowded market. Contact me today to learn more about how I can help your restaurant thrive.


  • Wansink, B., & Sobal, J. (2007). Menu labeling is ineffective for changing food choices in restaurants. Journal of nutrition education and behavior, 39(5), 216-221.
  • Khan, U., & Dhar, R. (2006). Licensing effect in consumer choice. Journal of marketing research, 43(2), 259-266.
  • Piqueras-Fiszman, B., & Spence, C. (2014). The influence of the color of the cup on consumers’ perception of a hot beverage. Journal of Sensory Studies, 29(3), 238-245.
  • Ballester, J., & Hughes, G. M. (2018). How to design a menu: the effect of menu design on customer perceptions of food and drink. International Journal of Hospitality Management, 75, 47-55.
  • Damasio, A. (2006). Descartes’ error: Emotion, reason, and the human brain. Penguin.
  • Cron, L. (2012). Wired for story: The writer’s guide to using brain science to hook readers from the very first sentence. Ten Speed Press.
  • Kim, Y. G., Eves, A., & Scarles, C. (2009). Building a model of local food consumption on trips and holidays: A grounded theory approach. International Journal of Hospitality Management, 28(3), 423-431.
  • Pliner, P., & Hobden, K. (1992). Development of a scale to measure the trait of food neophobia in humans. Appetite, 19(2), 105-120.
  • Rozin, P. (1996). Sociocultural influences on human food selection. In Food selection and preparation (pp. 37-58). Springer, Boston, MA.
  • Wansink, B., & van Ittersum, K. (2013). Bottoms up! The influence of elongation on pouring and consumption volume. Journal of Consumer Research, 39(5), 983-995.

Here’s to great food and even greater people!

~ Andre Ivanchuk

Keywords - Menu Engineering
Published - March 20, 2023

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