Food for Thought: Wording for menus
‘Lightly-toasted granary loaf with creamy butter and delicious West Country farmhouse cheddar, hand-selected by our specialist cheese experts.’
Sitting as I am in the Take Stock offices at 9am without so much as a pretend chocolate bar from Miles’ tuck drawer to sustain me, it’s fair to say that I would do most things (some illegal) in order to get my hands on whatever was just described. Adjectives like ‘lightly-toasted’ and ‘creamy’ help me to imagine the texture and taste of the food. Describing the provenance of the cheese and its method of selection assures me of its quality. In fact, it’s fair to say that I have been completely distracted from the fact that what I would receive were I to order this in a cafe or restaurant would be a kind-of-posh cheese toastie.
In all matters of communication, however, it is important to know your audience. What they want, need and understand is vital when describing the food you intend to sell to them. In the same way that many people consider ordering a ‘venti americano’ a slightly embarrassing waste of time when, really, they’d be happy with a large black coffee, the plasterer’s apprentice sent down to your cafe with a lunch order for 20 isn’t necessarily going to care which breed of pig goes into your artisan chipolatas. He wants a vast number of sausage and egg butties (with brown and red), and he wants them quickly.
It may seem as though I can’t decide what I want – to have my appetite teased by your poetic wording for menus, or to be told in the simplest terms exactly what I’m ordering. In menu writing there is a place for both floridity and simplicity, and choosing the right one can do wonders for your bottom line. This isn’t to say, of course, that you should go about making sweeping socio-intellectual judgements about your customer base: if you get it wrong, you run the risk of alienating or offending your regulars. A good place to start would be to analyse the kind of business you do. If your customers enjoy sitting and spending time examining the menu, you might consider going into more detail describing the food you offer. On the other hand, if you run a quick-turnaround takeout-style establishment, your customers aren’t going to want to spend time working out what the menu means. Most importantly, you should talk to your customers – get on social media platforms and find out what they want. Do they care about the provenance of your ingredients, or how you’ve cut your carrots? If so, include this sort of information in the menu.
Try not to slip into the land of awful cliché, however. Unless your ‘lively spiced chicken’ is actually still pecking around on the plate, it’s probably best to go with ‘chicken, marinated in…’ whatever spices you’ve happened to use. The important thing is to further inform your interested customers, not to try and make your food seem more exciting than it is. Hopefully, what appears on the plate before them will speak for itself.