How to Write a Menu Describing Your Food

Words have power. Whether they're used in advertisements, newsprint, or everyday conversation, the words you choose make the difference between a yes or a no, a smile or a frown, even a sale or a loss. This is especially true when you're relying on printed words to convey an idea — the lack of tone, facial expressions, and interpersonal back-and-forth makes it difficult to persuade someone, much less convey an idea in the first place. But it's almost all you have when it comes to a menu. Couple that with the limited space, and it can be a chore to describe something correctly while making it enticing. That's why you have to make every word count.


Appearance, Texture, and Taste

Before you can find the right words, it's important to examine the different sensations associated with food — namely appearance, texture, and taste.

The appearance of a food is important because, like the cliché says, we all eat with our eyes. Making a food look appetizing is almost as important as how it tastes. Describing how it looks can be done in a number of different ways, but appearance can best be described with everything from simple colors (like "brown" or "green") to image-heavy adjectives (like "a sprinkle of sugar" or "a dab of butter").

Another consideration for your food is texture. Whether your chicken tenders are crispy or your chocolate mousse is creamy, the proper texture can make or break a dish. Because of this, matching the right texture words to the right dishes is critical. Words like "succulent" and "tender" are ideal for savory dishes, while "creamy" and "fluffy" are great for desserts.

The final and most obvious consideration is taste. The flavor of your food is typically what most people remember most often. Whether it's sweet, sour, savory, salty, or bitter, it will stay in a customer's memory. If filet mignon has the perfect taste, a customer will remember that. If it's over-salted, they'll remember that too. It's the basic premise of the whole foodservice industry — taste is king. The possibilities for describing a flavor are nearly endless.


Word Choice

With those concepts in mind, picking your descriptive menu words is an easy next step. Because the appearance of a dish typically speaks for itself, a quick word here and there can get the job done. This includes words like:

  • Blanched
  • Breaded
  • Caramelized
  • Charred
  • Colorful
  • Elegant
  • Fresh
  • Fried
  • Green
  • Leafy
  • Seared

Texture is a little more complex. Because a food's mouthfeel is critical to its acceptance or rejection, touching on the right phrasing is important to a customer's order decision. This includes words like:

  • Buttery
  • Creamy
  • Crisp
  • Crispy
  • Crunchy
  • Delicate
  • Fluffy
  • Full-bodied
  • Juicy
  • Moist
  • Smooth
  • Succulent
  • Tender

Last, taste is the most important sense to convey. Using the five primary flavors for every course from appetizers to dessert, you can entice your customers to the dish that best suits their tastes. Utilizing the names of noticeable foods, like garlic or onion, can also help provide an idea of a food's overall taste. This includes words like:

  • Bitter
  • Chocolaty
  • Garlicky
  • Rich
  • Salted
  • Savory
  • Sour
  • Sweet
  • Tart
  • Zesty

While there are almost an infinite amount of words you can choose, these are just a few descriptive words for food that can get your menu started. They're recognizable enough to catch a customer's eye, common enough to explain your food at a glance, and specialized enough that you don't have to resort to clichés. With a handful of go-to words and the innovation of your chef, describing your newest dishes will take no time — your menu may even write itself.


Related resources:  

Picking the Best Bar Food Menu  

Menu Psychology: How to Increase Restaurant Sales with Menu Design

Beer Food Pairings: Bringing Out the Flavor in Your Menu

Catering Menu Ideas