Menu Writing Lesson 4 : Menu Wording
One of the key tools for writing a successful menu is the dish description. In this next installment of our guide to Menu Writing, we look at the do’s and don’ts of menu wording…
Descriptive words should never be random, or thrown together carelessly. Why? Because:
- they present an image of your food in the minds of your customers when they read the menu and are vital in selling a dish.
- a badly described dish can put customers off ordering it.
- badly worded menu descriptions displayed outside, or in the widow of a restaurant can actually put people off entering a restaurant in the first place.
- slow shifting dishes, if re-worded and repositioned on the menu, can start to sell.
How to Crack Menu Descriptions
Dish descriptions should tell the customer what any given dish is, in the most enticing and mouthwatering way possible – without going overboard. The basic rule, often forgotten, is: keep it short, understandable and simple.
Within that framework you have to impart the following information:
- explanation of a dish’s major ingredients.
- colloquial/traditional dish and ingredient names if appropriate, to add a bit of authentic flair.
How you define short and simple depends on the type of restaurant you run. There is NOT one golden rule for all types of restaurant; ‘short’ can be relaxed a little for certain styles of restaurant. Here are some guidelines for interpreting the ‘short and simple’ rule:
- In a bistro/pub concept it’s much better to reflect the relaxed, less fussy service styles with to-the-point, no-nonsense dish descriptions e.g. Roast pork belly, black pudding, mushroom sauce
- In more up-market operations you can afford a slightly lengthier description. Give a few more details of either ingredient sourcing or cooking methods e.g. Honey pot-roast belly of pork, Bury black pudding hash, caramelised root vegetables, forest mushroom sauce
Watch out for: Over delivering i.e. using clichéd words and phrases whose meaning has been devalued through over-use. Also be cautious of using superfluous words which make the description woolly and long-winded.
Words and phrases to avoid:
- nestled in
- sat on
- with/accompanied with/served with
Menu Wording to avoid
- Avoid kitchen jargon, or mixing and matching languages (eg English and French). Stick to one language only in your menu descriptions. Be consistent. Here’s a bad example that we found recently:“Seared canon of lamb sat on a Julienne of fried potatoes and an etuvé of leek and fèves à la crème served with a rosemary and vin rouge jus.”
- Over use of suppliers’ and farmers’ names is as bad as not using them at all. Here’s a bad example: “Hereford beef fillet sat on Riverford baby vegetables, red Duke of York potato rosti and caramelised pippin apples and with a Weston’s organic cider sauce.”
- Wrong use of capital letters. The only things that should be written in capital letters are place names or people’s names – or anything that comes after a full-stop or at the beginning of a sentence. Here’s a terrible example:“Roast Breast of duck with a Black pudding and Potato mash, Roasted root vegetables, Thyme and Red wine Jus.”
- Wrong use of apostrophes. Critics hate this. Apostrophes should only be used for:
a) omissions of letters (eg can’t) and these are unlikely to be needed in menu descriptions.
b) possessives (eg ‘goat’s cheese’, ‘chef’s choice’ etc). Don’t forget when using a plural possessive, eg ‘suppliers’ names’ the apostrophe comes after the ‘s’.
- Spelling mistakes – the most common slip-up in dish descriptions on menus. Guests and critics both hate it.
KC TOP TIP: Read your menu backwards as well as forwards. This makes you read it more slowly and focuses your mind on each word more sharply. It’s also a good idea to give it to someone else to read before you print it off – fresh eyes spot mistakes.
Once upon a time everybody divided menus into classical sections of starters, mains and desserts. These days there are more options for sub-divisions: e.g. ‘Little Bites’, ‘Small Plates’, ‘Sharing Plates’ etc. The choice of how you split a menu up depends on the type of operation and your own personal choice: BUT KEEP IT SIMPLE, KEEP IT CONSISTENT.
REMEMBER: A diner needs to know what he/she is getting – and, in the case of sharing, small etc plates – whether it is sufficient in portion size to substitute for a starter or a main course. Sharing platters and tapas style dishes are great but it is not good policy for diners to end-up with too much, or worse, too little food.
COMING SOON: WATCH OUT FOR KC’S TIPS ON THE BEST WAYS TO PLACE AND DISPLAY DISHES ON YOUR MENU.
TOP TIP FROM JOHN WOOD
EARS AND EYES – USE THEM!
- When I used to hear guests saying, “Oooh that sounds nice!” as they read a menu, I knew I had cracked it. I encouraged the waiting staff to listen for this reaction and find out which dish the customer was reacting to.
- I also used to traipse the streets of whatever city or town I was in (still do) looking at menus displayed in restaurant windows. Why this strange behaviour? Two reasons:
- to spot which dish appealed to me on the menus (as a reference point when I came to write my own).
- to try and overhear the reactions of potential customers . I even sometimes chatted to these people to find out what they liked the look of, in my desire to master the art of menu writing. Collecting menus descriptions is something I still do after 30 years in the industry.