Menus are the foundation of your restaurant, and conscientious evaluation and consistent, compelling menu updates are what keep your operation successful. As the restaurant industry changes over to a takeout and delivery platform, it’s more important than ever to cultivate your brand by infusing originality onto your menu, not only with the items you serve but also with the descriptive language used to promote them. Re-engineer your menu depictions with more vivid, illustrative, and experiential language to enhance your perception with customers, boost sales, and drive brand evolution.
The Power of Word Choice
With the power to significantly influence purchasing decisions, words are the bridges that connect customers with your offerings and play a leading role in every dining experience. Predefined categories like “Appetizers,” “Salads,” and “Entrées” are unimaginative, overdone, and lack passion, inspiration, and curiosity. Numerous modern chefs, including distinguished, well-known chefs like Thomas Keller, David Chang, and Tom Douglas, are revitalizing their menus with innovative categories and creative, inviting descriptions that add character to dishes, cultivate their restaurant’s culture, and distinguish their brand from the competition. Whether you operate a sandwich shop, a pizza eatery, or a classy gastropub, stimulate customers’ appetites with pictorial verbiage to strengthen your current menu and deliver a unique, satisfying sensory experience before the food is even served.
Simple Strategies & Boundless Possibilities
With a little strategy and ingenuity, any operation can shift its menu narrative to create buzz and illustrate innovation. It’s not about recreating the entire menu; it’s about working with existing items to emphasize specific characteristics and enhance their appeal. Experiment with interesting concepts that make customers excited about the items in that section and deliver unexpected, memorable experiences. For example, upscale restaurants or those that frequently serve more elaborate courses may adjust menu categories to numbers, “one,” “two,” “three,” that guide customers through the selection of each course. Another way to shift to more experiential language is to focus on the origins of your items. Showcase a variety of seafood in a category titled “Water” or feature a “Pasture” section for items like chicken, beef, and lamb, as well as our Orange-Herb Porchetta di Tronchetta seen on page 14 of Essence or on Fresh Ideas. Highlight distinct meats, cheeses, house-made jams, and chutneys in a choose-your-own “Charcuterie” section, or create a category titled “Classics” to showcase reinvented continental cuisine (see pages 19-22 in Essence for details on contemporary continental cuisine). For more casual eateries, words like “Nibbles” or “Bites” are ideal for snack or small plate applications, and slang terms such as “Slurps” for drinks or “Afters” for desserts are fun and engaging ways to attract customers. You can also use slang vocabulary from other languages to impress customers, provide a bit of culinary education, and position your restaurant as an industry leader. For example, a menu category featuring Japanese-style sandwiches can be changed to “Sando,” Japanese for sandwich. No matter what terms, tones, or style you choose to represent your offerings, make the language true to your customer base and your brand.
A Taste for Texture & Temperature: Crispy & Chilled
According to a trend report conducted by Truly Good Foods, 70% of consumers said texture gives food a more interesting experience and playing up texture can make existing products more exciting. With consumers prioritizing customization, texture-focused descriptors tune in to customers’ needs and cravings, offering a perfect preview of the sensations they can expect from each dish. A textural term like “Crispy” initiates craveability and can encompass a variety of items from traditional menu categories. For a “Crispy” section, feature items such as seared scallops with crispy fennel, chicken and onion fritters, Parmesan polenta chips with black truffle aioli, or Portobello and Eggplant Fries (see page 12 of Essence or Fresh Ideas). “Chilled” is another experiential descriptor that draws out sensory experiences, directing customers to imagine the diverse chilled ingredients leaving their palates cool and refreshed. A “Chilled” section provides endless possibilities for classifying current menu items such as trendy, veg-centric dishes like shaved asparagus or chilled roasted beets, or mixed raw oysters, ceviche, and Beef Carpaccio (see page 12 of Essence or Fresh Ideas).
Transforming your menu with a simple shift in terminology allows customers to see your offerings – and brand – through a new lens that leaves them with fresh talking points and keeps your operation relevant and top-of-mind. These modern menu characterizations and descriptions also have a tremendous impact on driving sales; menu items that sound intriguing and approachable may push customers to order three dishes instead of two, ultimately boosting check averages and increasing profitability. And your customers aren’t the only ones who are affected by this transformation. Shifting your menu’s language may inspire chefs to think more creatively about the offerings they develop, initiating new recipe ideas and growth opportunities for your menu and business.
No matter your operation’s specialty, working with your existing menu to make it more imaginative, approachable, and inspiring to customers can transform the way they view your brand while increasing profits and guest satisfaction.