How to write "delicious" restaurant menu descriptions that sell more food

Find more about how to write menu copy that converts your visitors to your clients and helps you sell more food

Mouth-watering restaurant menu descriptions can make your clients crave your offerings and happy patrons come back many times. The menu has been called “a map that encourages easy navigation between hunger and satisfaction”.

We aim to help you create mouthwatering food descriptions in less time than it would take the average restaurant to serve you drinks. Studies show that your business can benefit tremendously from doing so. In fact, applying just a few menu writing tips, you could sell as much as 30% more food.

Be sure to get yourself a sandwich or at least a tall glass of water if you are dieting, because we are going to talk about the top five ways to write a menu that sells more by making you very hungry. Also, we are going to cover the most common mistakes in writing fancy menu descriptions and how you can avoid them.

How important are menu item descriptions?

While some beginner restaurateurs might think that the menu is just a food list, savvy people in the industry know that restaurant menu descriptions make a huge difference.

Even researchers were curious if people spend more when the menu descriptions are appetizing. A study from 2019 shows that the menu description triggers 45 % of the buying decision for a specific dish. The same paper identified the main categories of words that have an impact on the client’s decision to order those items. The following factors have the biggest influence for clients selecting a dish,

  • Identifying the food as local;
  • Giving proof that the recipe is made with organic ingredients;
  • Items that promote a sense of place;
  • Explaining the ingredients in the local language;
  • Using sensory words;
  • Including sentimental references.

Do you think this sounds difficult to do? We are here to help and provide simple dos and don’ts. By the power of example, you will be able to create food descriptions that have orders flying out to your kitchen faster than the cooks can make it.

#1 Trigger the senses with longer descriptions

Each item on your menu should have a mouthwatering name and either a list of ingredients or a persuasive description. The name of the dish should be self-explanatory. Clients need to understand what each item means at a glance and read the entire menu item description only if they are curious.

examples of writing a delicious restaurant menu items description for soup, main course and dessert
examples of writing a delicious restaurant menu items description for soup, main course and dessert
examples of writing a delicious restaurant menu items description for soup, main course and dessert

You need to find the right balance between the number of words you use to convince them that they are getting a good deal and keeping their attention. For a higher price, it is best to list more explanations and ingredients to justify it.

Think about what makes each dish unique and savory. Write down adjectives focusing on smell, taste, texture, or the cooking method.

  • Meat can be smoky, spicy, well-done, tender, juicy, lean, or aged.
  • Vegetables can range between fresh, earthy, and zesty.
  • Sauces are sweet, sour, bitter, tangy, rich, or fruity.

You don’t need an adjective for each ingredient. Just focus on the most important ones and the overall value of the dish.

Related: Menu Writing Tips for Restaurants

#2 Use location to suggest quality

You probably know that the most expensive wines come from particular regions, like a certain hill in Bordeaux, France, or a sunny vineyard in Tuscany. Following the same logic, adding a geographic origin to a dish or an ingredient makes it sound more expensive and of a better quality.

The more specific you can get with the source of your recipe, the more expensive, unique, and intriguing your menu item will become.

Ask your vendors for the traceability of the ingredients, especially if these are more exotic, like spices.

As the previously mentioned study suggests, some patrons are very fond of locally sourced ingredients and are willing to pay top dollar for this. Try and provide a way to identify local dishes if you don’t have an entire menu like that.

examples of using geographic origins to suggest quality in restaurant menu descriptions
examples of using geographic origins to suggest quality in restaurant menu descriptions
examples of using geographic origins to suggest quality in restaurant menu descriptions

Beware of this method, as it could backfire and scare your customers. If you think it is necessary, include a short description of the unfamiliar ingredient to make clients feel more confident when ordering.

If your establishment is upscale, you can use the original name of the dish to cater to the well-traveled client who will be intrigued by an exotic name or will happily recognize something they had abroad.

#3 Incorporate diets, customs and religion

We live in a globalized world, which means you are bound to serve a wide range of customers. Even if you aim to emphasize local flavors, you can make extra sales if you cater to specific needs and beliefs.

The vegetarian, vegan, and even raw-vegan movements are on the rise. Make sure you have at least one dish in each category to serve to clients following these dietary customs. Religious customers also praise vegan recipes during Lent.

If it makes sense for your client base and the specific of the restaurant, you could mark some of the dishes as being appropriate for those following religious-based diets or those imposed by health conditions (gluten-free, lactose-free).

text examples of restaurant menu descriptions with respect to diets, religion and customs
text examples of restaurant menu descriptions with respect to diets, religion and customs
text examples of restaurant menu descriptions with respect to diets, religion and customs

Being sensitive to your clients’ individual requirements can lead to excellent word of mouth within their communities. Be discreet about this; you could use well-known symbols next to the name of the dish, or include them in the longer description instead of the title so that you don’t discourage your regular clients.

#4 Create a nostalgic backstory

Would you be more inclined to order a “ham and mushrooms pizza” or “Nonna Edetta’s Special Pizza”? Even if you have no idea who Edetta was, or if she ever lived, it sounds more appealing and intriguing at the same time.

Together with your chef, try and identify those recipes which have a fascinating history. Focus on those passed down from one generation to the next, or which come from faraway places. If you have nothing like this, then you can make your story up, as long as you keep it credible. Use this story when mentioning the origin of the ingredients or the recipe.

However, don’t overuse this technique , as you don’t want to dilute its power. Think about nostalgic restaurant menu descriptions as a reliable branding tool that can help you sell. Keep the number of dishes with a backstory to three at most and make the narrative work with your overall brand. Aim to make one of these recipes a local legend that draws people to your restaurant.

examples of using nostalgia when writing a restaurant menu
examples of using nostalgia when writing a restaurant menu
examples of using nostalgia when writing a restaurant menu

#5 Write funny descriptions of food

Humor sells and fun menu descriptions often end up on social media and get thousands of shares. That means free organic advertising with minimum effort. After coming up with the right words, you can enjoy the stream of incoming clients for months. However, not every restaurant can benefit from this, as it has to go with your overall branding and company tone of voice.

text examples of using humor when writing restaurant menu descriptions
text examples of using humor when writing restaurant menu descriptions
text examples of using humor when writing restaurant menu descriptions

Use funny descriptions for dessert, cocktail names or the kid’s section if you want to have some fun while keeping a serious branding. Of course, you could go full steam ahead and make the entire menu hilarious. Try to make fun of well-known things, but keep out of politics and religion, because these topics are too sensitive and might offend some people.

Bonus: Use good quality photos, but sparingly

Most upscale restaurants don’t use pictures in their brick-and-mortar location menu. There are several reasons for this decision. The first one is because it makes the list longer and gives a cheap fast-food feeling. Another reason is that it creates certain expectations in the minds of the consumers and can lead to disappointment if the plate doesn’t look like the picture.

However, we advise you to use pictures to compliment your online restaurant menu descriptions because you don’t face printing constraints, and people are used to seeing visual cues in the digital world. If you use GloriaFood, you can upload a top quality image of your own or select one from the thousands available in our system, royalty free.

text example of using pictures in an online restaurant menu
text example of using pictures in an online restaurant menu

The key here is to select the most mouthwatering pictures of real products from your menu and use them as examples for categories.

Images can serve a secondary purpose: help SEO indexing of your website. If you use original pictures and name them accordingly, when someone searches for that dish, they might be drawn to your website from an image search.

Menu writing mistakes you should avoid

As you probably learned by now, writing a restaurant menu that sells is not easy, but with a little practice, it can boost your profits. Here are a few of the most common pitfalls when writing menu descriptions.

1. Don’t use complicated menu description words
You will serve clients from all walks of life, and they should all be able to read the menu and decide without googling. Although we strongly advise you to use adjectives and descriptors which trigger the senses, don’t use cook-book terms. The final copy of your restaurant menu descriptions should be readable by a 7-year old child.
2. Stay away from negativity
Read your descriptions aloud to a public of family and friends to check for any negative sounding words. Try replacing these with more appetizing synonyms. For example, when writing a dessert menu description, don’t mention sugary. Replace it with glazed, or honeyed. Never say burned when talking about a dish, but use charred. Something cooked in butter is never greasy, but velvety or smooth.
3. Eliminate currency signs
Upscale restaurants don’t even put prices in their printed menus, but this is a risky maneuver. If you want to minimize the pain associated with paying, there are a few psychological tricks to take your customer’s mind off their wallets.
  • Delete any currency signs from the menu. Neuromarketing research shows that seeing just a number makes clients spend twice as much compared to when the list has a currency sign.
  • Place the price as close as possible to the name of the dish or the description to avoid price shopping if your items have substantial differences between them.
  • Use a smaller font size for the price.
4. Don’t make the menu too long
Menu variety is a good thing; people love to have choices. However, too many items on your menu list have the opposite effect as the “choice paradox” installs. Keep your menu long enough to be interesting for most customers, but short enough so that they can decide in less than 109 seconds, which is the average time spent reading a menu.

Implement these restaurant menu descriptions in your establishment and on your restaurant website to make your customers crave the food and order more. Keep in mind our menu description tips every time you craft a description for a meal. If you don’t have a website yet, you can try our free solution to get more clients to see your mouthwatering cuisine.

Silvia Palașcă

Silvia Palașcă is a passionate writer covering mostly the wine, food and travel industries, and a talented web developer with extensive knowledge of website optimization and SEO.

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