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How to Write the Best Menu Descriptions

Tips on writing menu descriptions that increase restaurant sales

a restaurant menu

It’s 2020! And since it’s the start of a new year, now is a good time to revisit your menus and start the new decade off strong. When it comes to food sales in your restaurant, the way you describe each dish can have a great effect. From being aware of successful restaurant menu trends to the science of great menu design—there are effective ways of streamlining your restaurant’s menu that will increase sales as well as ensure that your guests are happy and satisfied with their decision. Your menu descriptions have the power to upsell higher-priced items as well as items that provide larger profit margins for your restaurant.

Descriptive Words Sell

Using descriptive words for your dishes increases sales by 27%, according to the Food and Brand Lab, at Cornell University. Menu descriptions can really show off your brand voice and by spending a little extra time writing good ones—instead of a listicle of ingredients—can do wonders for your business. It’s important to know what buzzwords sell. This is a good opportunity to include where you source your ingredients, specifically what local farms you support. Include descriptive verbs such as diced, pureed and adjectives like blackened, roasted or toasted. These provide a visual and textural guide to each dish. 

For instance, in the example below, Gan Shan Station in Asheville, NC describes their Red Curry Short Ribs dish as “Creamy coconut curry, Japanese eggplant, shiitake mushrooms, togarashi peppers, sticky rice.” The use of an adjective at the beginning and then a thoughtful list of supporting ingredients helps visualize the texture of the dish, guiding a guest in their decision making. To those who care about where their ingredients are sourced, Gan Shan Station in their Pork Ramen dish, writes, “Vandele Farms pork belly” to showcase the North Carolina-based farm that raises their pork. 

A screenshot of a restaurant menu

Gan Shan Station’s Menu that does an excellent job of describing their dishes.

Using adjectives to describe your dishes, along with source names, adds a visual aid and value to each ingredient, ultimately making the dish come alive to your guest. It’s important to remember that people eat with their eyes. If your menus do not contain images, then it’s best practice to describe the dish in a manner that they can visualize without your staff having to explain to a confused guest.

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Naming Each Dish is Important

While descriptions under each dish’s name will help with selling, many guests may already know what they are looking for. If they have been in your restaurant before, they likely know what you offer, however, it’s still important that each dish’s name directly identifies what the dish is. Sometimes it can be done as simply as Bar Sardine in NYC’s West Village. The popular spot from Happy Cooking Hospitality is well known for its Fedora Burger, named after owner/operator, Gabe Stulman’s modern speakeasy, Fedora—just a few doors down.

a screenshot of a restaurant menu

Simple, to-the-point names for menu items at Bar Sardine.

Guests Purchase More When Dishes Entice

Have you ever been at a restaurant and said to yourself, “we have so much food ordered already, but this just sounds so good, I have to order it.” This is the goal when writing menu descriptions. It’s proven that guests purchase more food when dishes sound more enticing. Guests, on average, spend about 109 seconds with your menu. Make sure they know what they want in that time frame by making it easier for them to decide. This gives them more time to pick additional items they may have overlooked. Appetizers are sure to bump check averages up—thus increasing sales.

Ditch the $ Sign

Studies have shown that guests tend to order cheaper items when $ signs are placed next to the price. Keep prices rounded to the nearest dollar. This keeps your menu neat and organized and allows guests to focus on the dish descriptions and not get distracted by the price. We also recommend adding prices directly next to the menu descriptions. It’s a trick that will keep guests less focused on prices and more focused on all of the appealing items you offer.

An illustration of a dollar sign with an x through it.

Better Menu Descriptions Mean Less Food Waste

Food waste is a serious problem, not only facing restaurants but around the world. In the United States alone, food waste costs in the restaurant industry account for $162 billion annually. And while an estimated 25-35% of restaurant sales go to food costs, it’s a pressing issue when profit margins are notoriously razor-thin. When guests feel confident in their order, they are less inclined to send it back, creating potential waste and food costs for the restaurant.

A graphic that says $162 Billion annually in restaurant industry food costs

Writing clear, vivid and enticing menu descriptions and names will help in alleviating these potential problems while subconsciously creating trust with your guests and ultimately loyal fans—not to mention, your staff will benefit from happy guests all around. A win for everyone and the environment. 

We’ve highlighted the importance of enticing menu descriptions and dish names and how they can result in more restaurant sales, less food waste and loyal customers.  Now it’s time to be creative and get to writing. If you’re interested in learning more about menu best practices or the latest trends we’re seeing with restaurant menus get in touch with us below, and be sure to check back here regularly for restaurant-related tips and tricks.

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