How Long Should Your Menu Descriptions Be?

How Long Should Your Menu Descriptions Be

Tantalizing descriptions help your customer decide what to order.

Just how long should your menu description be? It’s usually longer than many restaurants realize, but it certainly shouldn’t be a novel.

Your focus is on enticing the customer, offering them a tantalizing description that just begs them to order the item. Your focus is the same in both your in-house menu and your online menu, but there are a few differences.

For example, in your online menu, you need to use language that your customer understands. Why? In-house, you have a server that can explain the dish further to your customer, while online, they have to decipher it themselves.

In your online menu, you’ll want to use keywords that your customer might search for when looking for food or a place to dine.

You’ll want to pay similar attention to the length and descriptive words in each arena, online and in-house. A menu description should be enticing, evocative and descriptive. It should not be unnecessarily wordy. Don’t drag the description on just to make it longer. Keep your descriptions under two succinct sentences.

In this article, we’re going to talk about how long your menu descriptions should be as well as ways to fine tune both your in-house and online menus to use them as advertising pieces to get the most customer engagement.

Restaurant Menu Psychology

Your customer is seated and looking at your menu full of delicious items. They look happy, but did you know that the process of choosing what to eat can be stressful?

There are so many things going through your diner’s mind:

Will I pick something before the waiter comes? Should I order healthy? Should I splurge? What can I afford? Is the waiter coming? Will I wish I’d ordered something else? Should I get an appetizer? Maybe I should just have the salad. Is the waiter coming? Should I be brave and order something different? Should I order a drink or stick to water? I’ll see what everyone else is having. Oh no. The waiter is coming now.

We’ve all been there.

Research shows that most menus include far more dishes than people want to choose from. And when it comes to choosing food and drink, influential psychophysicist, Howard Moskowitz, once said: “The mind knows not what the tongue wants.”

You can help eliminate some of that stress by writing clear menu descriptions that are long enough to describe the dish, but not too long as to bore the customer.

This applies to both your in-house and online menus.

Descriptive Menus Sell More

There are ways to make your restaurant menu better. The first and foremost is to think of your in-house and online menus as advertising pieces.

A study by researchers at the University of Illinois found that descriptive labels increased sales by 27% and improved the ways customers felt about the food, the restaurant and dining there again.

For the study, they described six items using a plain description and a more enticing description that included sensory descriptors like smooth or tender, geographic labels like Cajun or Italian, and nostalgic descriptors like home-style or Grandma’s. They rotated the items for six weeks. When customers chose an item, they asked them to complete a short survey. What did they learn?

  • The clever writing and more enticing descriptions increased sales 27%.
  • The more descriptive menu labels increased perceptions of quality and value and made people feel better about the restaurant and returning again.

This all means that your menu descriptions can increase your bottom line and increase customer loyalty, creating return visitors and brand ambassadors.

restaurant menu

Write clear menu descriptions that accurately portray the dish.

Writing Your Descriptions

Your restaurant has a story to tell about your food, and your story begins with your menu.

Restaurants that only list ingredients on their menu and don’t provide a description miss out on the prime advertising value of the menu. When you use the right adjectives and descriptions, you’ll entice more people to order your dish.

Here are a few descriptive words that will make your menu descriptions shine:

  • Slow-roasted: evokes a warm, caring kitchen where time was spent creating something delicious
  • Roasted: consider these – pan-roasted Alaskan halibut, oak-roasted fillets
  • Pan-seared: you’ll evoke the site of flames dancing around the food – pan-seared chicken with creamy artichoke sauce in with roasted asparagus
  • Crispy, crunchy or caramelized
  • Wood oven roasted – this makes diners think of rustic, boldly flavored food. Wouldn’t you rather eat a wood oven roasted pizza with gorgonzola, fresh tomatoes and basil than a cheese pizza?
  • Farm-raised, locally sourced, line-caught

A Cornell University study found there are two things that matter most when people are ordering from your menu: what they see and how they imagine it will taste.

The study also find that diners are willing to pay an average of 12% more for a menu item with a descriptive name.

When boosting your menu items with an enticing description, you’ll want to pay special attention to whether or not it accurately describes the item. Don’t overpromise in the description and under deliver with the real item. Not sure if you description matches the item? Test it out.

Lastly, it’s worth a mention that you should take a look at the current trends in menu design. You’ll stay up-to-date and find a few extra tips for creating the perfect menu.

The Take-Away

Whether online, or in your restaurant, your menu is arguably one of the most important aspects of your business.

Virtually every single person who comes in your front door will interact with your menu. Your restaurant menu is guaranteed advertising. (tweet this) This is your place to shine. Unlike print, radio, television or pay per click advertising, you can rest assured that your customers will look at your menu.

Pay special attention to the length and quality of your online and in-house menu descriptions. Write and re-write and test your descriptions. If people aren’t ordering the item (and it tastes great), consider tweaking your description.

And remember, restaurant menus can subtly persuade your customers to order more food. (tweet this) Use your descriptions to suggest add-ons and companions. Use your menu as the prime advertising piece it is.

Don’t have an online menu or looking to revise the one you have? Looking for a way to engineer your online menu? Contact us today – we’d love to help you create or fine-tune your menu today!

Images: Christian Gonzalez and Reidmix

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