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Descriptive Menu Labels Effect on Sales

Wansink, Brian, James M. Painter, and Koert van Ittersum (2001). Descriptive Menu Labels Effect on SalesCornell Hotel and Restaurant Administrative Quarterly, 42(6 ), 68–72. doi:10.1016/S0010-8804(01)81011-9

Are you still dreaming about the Bloomin" Onion that you had the other night or the Jack Daniel"s Chicken that you ate two weeks ago?

A six–week controlled cafeteria study by the Food and Brand Lab found that descriptive menu–item labels increase food sales and improve the attitudes customers have towards of both the food and the restaurant. *

Over the course of six weeks, six food items were labeled with descriptive labels or standard plain labels; for example, "New York Style Cheesecake with Godiva Chocolate Sauce" vs. "Cheesecake. " Each week the labels were switched. Any person who chose a pre–selected item was asked to complete a survey.

Results showed that of the 150 diners surveyed, people chose the descriptive menu item 27% more than the normally labeled menu choice. In fact, diners who chose the descriptive menu item had better attitudes about the product and restaurant, including the willingness to go back. They even indicated that they would be willing to pay almost 10% more for each descriptive menu item.

The results of this study were published in the Cornell Hotel and Restaurant Administration Quarterly. The study could make many diners think about what they choose from the menu and how they are influenced simply by labels.

"We now know that the cute names used by some restaurants for years really do increase food sales as well as how the restaurant is seen in the eyes of the customer," said Dr. Brian Wansink, director of the Food and Brand Lab. "The key is for customers to realize they are influenced by what they see and choose accordingly."

Download a pre-print verion of the article here.

*The study was conducted at the University of Illinois, former location of the Cornell Food and Brand Lab.