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How Descriptive Food Names Bias Sensory Perceptions in Restaurants

Wansink, Brian, Koert van Ittersum and James E. Painter (2005). How descriptive food names bias sensory perceptions in restaurants.  Food Quality and Preference, 16:5, 393–400. doi:10.1016/j.foodqual.2004.06.005

Can menu names suggestively influence the perceived taste of restaurant food? Can a dietitian, restaurateur, marketer, or parent change the perceived taste of a food simply by changing its name? We hypothesized that foods with evocative, descriptive menu names would be conceived as more favorable and generate more positive comments about the food. We conducted a six–week cafeteria experiment involving 140 customers and changed the name of six popular products that were each offered twice a week.

The names of these foods were pre–tested and found to be appropriately descriptive, appealing, and evocative. These re–labeled foods were Traditional Cajun Red Beans with Rice (vs. Red Beans with Rice), Succulent Italian Seafood Filet (vs. Seafood Filet), Tender Grilled Chicken (vs. Grilled Chicken), Homestyle Chicken Parmesan (vs. Chicken Parmesan), Satin Chocolate Pudding (vs. Chocolate Pudding), and Grandma's Zucchini Cookies (vs. Zucchini Cookies). The foods were rotated with different names on different days. Those who selected a re–named target food were asked to fill out a one page survey regarding their dietary habits, sensory perceptions, and caloric intake and asked to provide open–ended comments about the food they tasted. Participants who ate foods with evocative, descriptive menu names generated a larger number of positive comments about the food and rated it as more appealing, tasty, and caloric than those eating regularly–named counterparts. The open–ended comments indicated that their evaluations were assimilated with prior taste expectations in a manner that is more deliberate and less automatic than most research typically claims. We conclude that name of a food provides a cue as to what might be expected from its taste. For nutrition educators and practitioners, the use of descriptive names may help improve perceptions of foods in institutional settings, and it may help facilitate the introduction of unfamiliar foods.

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