Behaviour Change

PROPAGANDA FOR CHANGE is a project created by the students of Behaviour Change (ps359) and Professor Thomas Hills @thomhills at the Psychology Department of the University of Warwick. This work was supported by funding from Warwick's Institute for Advanced Teaching and Learning.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

How Menu Descriptions Make Us Eat More

Whenever I enter a restaurant a restaurant or café, reading the menu descriptions makes my mouth water immediately and makes me want to order literally everything off the menu. I’ve sometimes wondered, why couldn’t it just be plain ‘chocolate fudge cake’ instead of ‘warm, gooey chocolate fudge cake drizzled with hot chocolate sauce’. This is something that I think happens with most people, and is a persuasive technique to make consumers order more!

The use of descriptive labels such as Jack Daniel’s Chicken, Psychedelic Sorbet, or the Blooming Onion is a continued trend in the hospitality industry. But does simply changing the menu labels from generic, straightforward names to descriptive names impact sales or make a customer actually believe the food tastes better?

In the book, Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think (Wansink, 2006), a restaurant experiment was described where they simply made the names of menu items more creatively descriptive (for example, Seafood Filet became Succulent Italian Seafood Filet and Grilled Chicken became Tender Grilled Chicken). Did descriptive labels influence one’s taste? Definitely. They increased sales by 27 percent over the plain-labeled menu items. In addition, the menu items were viewed as more appealing and tastier, and the restaurant as being trendier and more up to date. This is because descriptive labeling allows consumers to concentrate more on the feelings and taste aspects of the products instead of focusing only on the functional or utilitarian properties. For instance, when asked to comment on their entree or dessert, people who were given a descriptively labeled product directed 84.5 percent of their comments to factors related to the taste and sensory nature of the product. In contrast, those who ate the less descriptively labeled products focused only 42.6 percent on these sensory aspects and reserved their remaining comments (such as “good,” “filling,” or “reasonable”) for the more utilitarian or functional characteristics of the foods.
Categories that are usually used to describe food are:
Geographic – E.g. Southwestern Tex-Mex Salad, Country Peach Tart
Nostalgic – E.g. Classic Old World Italian, Nana’s Favourite Chicken Soup
Sensory – E.g. Snappy Seasonal Carrots, Buttery Plump Pasta
Brand – E.g. Black Angus Beef Burgers, Jack Daniel’s BBQ Ribs
So next time one enters a restaurant and wants to order everything off the menu right after reading such descriptions – you know what’s persuading you! (2011) Do Descriptive Menu Labels Influence Customers? | isantemagazine. [online] Available at: [Accessed: 13 Mar 2013].
Wansink, B. (2006) Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think. New York: Bantam Books.

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