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How improving restaurant menu descriptions may boost sales an astonishing 27%, increase perception of quality, and actually influence human behavior – Menu Engineering, Part 2

Good words are worth much, and cost little.

~ George Herbert

Based on a study by Cornell University (published in the Cornell Hotel and Restaurant Administration Quarterly), menu items with good descriptions outsell others by 27%. Descriptions that use expressive language and paint a vivid picture in the minds of consumers have a powerful effect on purchase decisions.

  • Sales of Menu Items with Good Descriptions!
  • Basic Menu Item Descriptions

Descriptions that use vivid storytelling words to describe ingredient pairings, preparation methods, and presentation expectations outsell other items on the menu by nearly 30%

The study looked at how descriptive menu labels (versus simple and basic descriptions) impacted sales, customer’s perception of taste of food, attitudes towards value of the purchase, and their overall attitudes toward the restaurant.

Here are the results:


Sales – Descriptive menu item sales increased by 27%!


Food Quality – Descriptive menu items saw the attitude towards menu item’s quality increase 11.29%


Purchase Value – Descriptive menus saw attitude towards menu item’s purchase value (meaning customers felt like they got more bang for the buck) a 12.7% increase


Restaurant It Factor – Descriptive menu items saw the Attitudes towards the restaurant, specifically the restaurants relevance (coolness factor) increase 14.04%


Restaurant Quality – Descriptive items saw the attitudes towards the restaurant’s overall quality increase 20.83%


Purchase Intent – Descriptive menu items saw purchase intent increase of 20.34%


Willingness to pay more – Descriptive menus impacted customer’s willingness to pay more by 7.14% (meaning customers were willing to pay 7.14% more for the same dish… a direct correlation to value)

In other words….

Descriptive menu items can justify a price increase of 7%!

So, if your restaurant is doing $1M, that’s an additional $71,400 annually!


The caveat, it is important to understand not every menu item needs to be a work of poetic literature. Overuse of descriptive language may backfire. Use strategically. Apply to items that make most sense (high profitability, ingredients with a short shelf life, etc.).

In another study by Michael McCall & Ann Lynn, published by the title The Effects of Restaurant Menu Item Descriptions on Perceptions of Quality, Price, and Purchase Intention, which collected and analyzed controlled menu data from 160 restaurant goers, looking at how individuals may respond to menu items that were either described simply, or described more complexly – resulted in similar results.

Their findings concluded that “items described in more complex terms increased perceptions of quality, likelihood of purchase, and expected price. More complex terminology increased perceptions of quality, likely choice, and pricing expectations.”

  • Complex Terminology – Quality
  • Complex Terminology – Likely Choice
  • Complex Terminology – Price Expectations
  • Simple Terminology – Quality
  • Simple Terminology – Likely Choice
  • Simple Terminology – Price Expectations

Speech has power. Words do not fade. What starts out as a sound, ends in a deed.

~ Abraham Joshua Herschel
Another recent study by Kimberley Peters and Pr. Hervé Remaud, looked at potential factors which may influence restaurant goers’ menu item selection. Over 1,200 customers were involved. Both casual and fine-dining restaurant settings were considered. The study revealed that “the most influential attribute on patrons’ menu-item selection at restaurants is ‘the combination of ingredients.’” Combination of ingredients = how well the ingredients work together, the thought and knowledge that went into the selection of each ingredient. The expertises and creativity in creating a dish
  • Combination of Ingredients
  • Avoidance of Food
  • Sustainability

Additionally, the study also concluded that not only was “the combination of ingredients” the most influential factors on a customer buying decision, but it was 100% probable that a customer would choose “the combination of ingredients” as the primary factor when deciding!

A well-written entree creates images – painting a clear picture of what it may look like, how it may taste, and the overall expected experience.


Quick and Easy | Do-it-today Takeaways

  • Put a little more effort and get creative with titles and item descriptions
  • Include process language; hand-breaded, flame-seared, aged to perfection
  • Include storytelling; locally sourced (include name), farm-to-table, in-season, freshly picked, etc.
  • Without sounding snobby or pretentious, if the process uses a technique deeply-rooted in the culinary arts (and it sounds French!), using it. “Finished with a fresh herb chiffonade”, instead of “herb garnish”.
  • If simplicity is part of your brand, that’s fine. Approach menu engineering with a headline approach; stronger menu titles, smaller descriptions. At a quick glance it will give a visual sense of a simple, uncluttered look. And will give the customer a chance to quickly scan menu headlines, looking for descriptor keywords.
  • Btw, please don’t BS your menu or your customer. If you honestly serve great food, prepared with thought and care, using the freshest ingredients – then go for it! Get creative with descriptions. You may find it’ll be the simplest way to increase pricing by 7%.

    Here’s to great food and even better company!

    ~ Andre Ivanchuk


    Published - December 26, 2021

    More on this topic…

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

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

    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.

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