This post is part of a series to help you build a winning menu that will engage with your customers, assist your team and most importantly, drive your bottom line.
Dining out is a social experience. Think about those words for a moment: Social. Experience.
Social in my mind means conversation, to regale a story or to enjoy your dining companion’s perspective. And what better way to trigger those stories, that human interaction, than with the document your diners collectively hold in their hands: your menu. As your guests browse the Chef’s list of recommended dishes, any emotive words or descriptive phrases will help trigger conversation. THAT is where the experience comes in. Your guests don’t just eat - they have a dining experience. And customers WILL pay a premium for the pleasure.
|Mrs K. enjoying a chat over lunch at The Cube. (R)|
The funny thing is, they may not even remember what they ordered when they later tell friends about the meal they enjoyed at your great restaurant, (put that down to your awesome wine sales technique), but they will remember what a great conversation they had as they reminisce. Before you’ve even lifted a pen or a pan, your menu has captured the imagination and generated some great word-of-mouth referrals. Now you’re really cooking.
So here are a few pointers that I tend to use when describing my dishes:
If your menu appeals to ladies, then the fellas will follow. How many restaurants have mid-week tables of ladies enjoying a girl’s night out? Get them returning on the weekend with hubby or that dishy new beau with words like fluffy, softly, lightly-scented, gently folded, delicate. You get the idea...
Steaks are Masculine
So use words like Seared or Pan-fried or Char-grilled - all manly things to do to a steak or a piece of chicken.
What other dishes could be framed as ‘masculine’?
Drop that letter ‘a’
Who Cooked It?
One of the most powerful ways of engaging your customers and your team is by mentioning the people involved. If Chef Robert makes the bread, then say so. Anna's Red Cabbage Coleslaw or Jan's Sandwiches (as we had in our pub once upon a time) really personalises the experience and wins loyalty. In fact Jan used to have to come out to personally inform our guests what her sandwich of the day was. Why? Because they loved it and came back time and again for more.
This drives me absolutely nuts. Welcome to Mediocrityville.
“Steak served with a Mushroom Sauce”. Why is that ‘a’ in there? Get rid of it.
Char-grilled Steak with Mushroom Sauce
Avoid the word ‘with’.
Your page is valuable real estate. Don’t clutter it up with unnecessary with's, and's and a’s. Use a comma instead.
Fish Cakes with a Mustard Sauce becomes
Fish Cakes, Mustard Sauce or
Dill-Scented Salmon Cakes, Wholegrain Mustard Sauce or
Salmon Cakes on Lightly Foamed Creamy Mustard Sauce
(Which dish would you choose?)
Invoke that sense of Smell
Smells tap into your reader’s memory bank and that can be very compelling when making a choice on what to eat.
Scented with, infused, minted, pungent, caramelised
Describe Textures in your dish titles. Again this is great for feminising a dish.
A sauce can be creamy, shiny, silky, velvety...
Think Nigella: Use terms that invoke luxury
Smothered, rich, oozing, Luxurious, tipsy, soft-centred, gooey...
Think Heston: Invoke memories (Think of school days and apple pie here...)
Old-fashioned, retro, childhood, vintage, classical…
Think Delia: Mention the cooking method, but in a feminine way.
Gently Baked, lightly poached, herb-roasted, slow-braised...
Think Jamie: Describe how it’s dressed on the plate:
drizzled, a squeeze of, shavings, a cordon, sprinkled, layered, piled, bosh!
Compare and contrast
It’s a writing trick, but it’s also a way of constructing a dish, so an example could be:
Iced Parfait of Caramelised Hazelnuts, Warm Chocolate Sauce (Hot/Cold) or
Velvety Chocolate Mousse, Peanut Butter Brittle (Soft/Hard)
Talk up your Provenance
If you’re not mentioning how you source your food, then start today.
Be aware however, of how you go about that. There is a current trend to mention the farmer, butcher, grower, cheesemaker, trawlerman or every man and his dog to get across the point that you are sourcing ethically and locally. If you think it makes sense to your customers, continue doing it.
Personally, I find it clutters up the menu (Pan-Seared Red Tractor Sirloin, Creamy Sauce of John Smith foraged Wild Mushrooms just doesn’t work.) What does work is perhaps a small text box at the bottom or at the back of a menu that mentions all of those acknowledgements and logos in one hit.
Oh, and train your staff to be ready for the question from inquisitive or enthusiastic guests. Those you nourish will flourish.
I hope this has given you some inspiration to revisit your menu wording and create that connection with your customers that’ll have them coming back for more. For more ideas on how to be creative with your dish descriptions, open any cookbook and have a browse. More than recipes, they are lifestyle aspirations. Have you got that on your menu?
Bookmark or Subscribe now: Upcoming posts will look more specifically at unlocking Dessert’s Hidden Treasure and the psychology behind a great Price Point Plan.