Descriptive Menu Labels Increase Sales and Satisfaction

Wansink, B., Painter, J., & van Ittersum, K. (2001) Descriptive Menu Labels Effect on Sales. Cornell Hotel and Restaurant Administrative Quarterly, 42:6, 68–72. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S0010-8804(01)81011-9

foodandbrandlab@cornell.edu

Mouthwatering food descriptions are often used to entice customers, but how do descriptors actually affect sales and customer satisfaction? Drs. Wansink, Painter and van Ittersum sought to answer this question by putting some enticing menu descriptors to the test. The researchers found that descriptive menu labels not only increased sales by 27%, but also improved the attitudes of consumers towards the food and the eatery.

 140 participants were invited to dine in the faculty cafeteria of a major Midwestern University. Each patron dined in the cafeteria twice a week for six weeks with differing food combinations each meal.  Menu items were labeled as follows:

  • Red Beans with Rice or Traditional Cajun Red Beans with Rice
  • Seafood Filet or Succulent Italian Seafood Filet
  • Grilled Chicken or Tender Grilled Chicken
  • Chicken Parmesan or Homestyle Chicken Parmesan
  • Chocolate Pudding or Satin Chocolate Pudding
  • Zucchini Cookies or Grandma’s Zucchini Cookies

 Each day, two of these menu items were presented with descriptive names, two were with regular names, and two were not offered. Upon checkout participants were given a questionnaire in which they were asked to rate the food, the cafeteria and how much they were willing to pay for each item.

 Researchers found that:

  1.  27% more consumers selected food items with descriptive labels,
  2. Those who selected food with descriptive labels rated the cafeteria and food higher
  3. Consumers were likely to pay almost 10% more for food with descriptive labels.

 The results of this study show that increasing the appeal of a restaurant and its food can be as simple as rewriting the menu. Adding descriptive names to healthy or high price margin foods will not only increase sales of those items but will also influence customers to think more highly of the food and the restaurant.

Summary by Vince Wen