Making Food Special with Better Descriptions

May 6 2017, 9:15pm

Most foods out there aren't that special.

They're not produced with little hats on them to block them from too much sun exposure, placed in moulds to come out like little buddhas, or take five years to bear fruit.

black truffle

Much of our basic ingredients come from production that has become highly commercialized and mechanized. When siting down to have a burger, there's not too much to differentiate one hamburger from the next.

What's a restaurant to do to command a higher price?

The answer lies in using descriptions to make foods appear more special. Dishes that seem more special are more sought after and can thus fetch a higher price.

There are a couple of ways which descriptions can boost the appeal of a dish including:

  • Going into detail about a dish's ingredients
  • Telling customers the source
  • Limiting other options
  • Using unfamiliar terminology

beef ragout

Ever had a Sicilian Beef Ragoût?

Sounds great, doesn't it?

What about a beef tomato stew?

Perhaps not as appealing?

What if you were told these dishes were the same?

A little improvement to a description can go a long way in increasing the appeal of something.

Going into Detail

Descriptions can make a big difference in how we perceive items. One way that perception can be enhanced is by bringing attention to the different ingredients in a dish. Listing out specific ingredients can help to further emphasize the unique nature of not only the ingredients but the dish itself.

fancy menu

Photo by papermonkey

Take the same beef tomato stew. What changes when it's described as a hearty beef ragout enriched with Napa Valley red wine, fresh locally-sourced herbs, Kalamata olives, chiles and cherry tomatoes? All of a sudden, you have customers salivating.

Where's it From?

Somewhat related to this, if your ingredients come from special places, highlighting where they come from can be a great way of boosting the appeal of an item. Especially when people seek more locally-grown foods or there is an inherent connection to a given locale, emphasizing the source can further help increase desire.

the Boba Guys menu

Photo by Boba Guys

Take the case of Boba Guys in San Francisco. On their menu, not only do they use many high quality and organic ingredients, but they specifically take the time to note that they use "Straus Family Organic Milk." Straus Family Creamery is a Marshall-based producer of dairy products known for their wide assortment of certified organic items.

Further east of Marshall, many restaurant menu items will boast about using "Sonoma" or "Napa Valley wines" for reductions and other methods of cooking. Even for the uninitiated, simply highlighting these details can bring about intrigue and a desire to try these food items.

The Fewer the Better

When you go to a restaurant, which seems like a more unique experience?

One where there are just three food options or one where there are nearly twenty?

Most likely, you went with the former.

Scarcity helps provide not only focus on a smaller selection of dishes, but some inherent assurance that there is quality in lesser quantity.

packed menu

Photo by Sarah A.

Pairing down a menu to the bare minimum, even if it means hiding all of the possible things that can be made, can help further boost one's bottom line.

Just Foreign Enough

People love to explore things that are just exotic enough that people are not completely out of their element. Especially for more ethnic types of foods, using words from other languages, especially those for different preparation styles can drive up interest in a particular dish.

"Finished with a tomato concassé" and "Topped with chopped tomatoes" might be the same things but one definitely sounds more adventurous—no?

At first glance, it might appear as though these methods can only be applied to non-ethnic food. No one really sous-vides Thai green curry chicken...

Or do they?

Focusing on providing more details about a dish can turn something like phở tái, a bowl of noodles with rare, sliced beef; into a "locally-sourced flank steak, prepared rare in a 24 hour savory broth with rice noodles, complimented with fresh sweet basil leaves, bean sprouts, and Vietnamese Cilantro."

Vietnamese food

Emphasizing uniqueness with better descriptions isn't just something to be used for food items. Many of these ideas can be applied to non-food items to create descriptions that will intrigue and entice. When paired with a story, anything can be taken from an everyday item to something extraordinary.

What kind of descriptions have you seen that have made something sound awesome?