Promotion Tips

Menu Naming Magic

Using the Power of Words to Improve Your Menu’s Profitability

Every restaurant is looking for a competitive edge, a way to differentiate themselves from the competitor down the street, and new solutions for delivering unique guest experiences. Typically, this starts with menu innovation – crafting distinctive culinary concepts that are on-trend and offer exceptionally satisfying ingredient and flavor combinations. But there’s more to it than that. To pull guests into your menu and drive them to your featured concepts, you need to give your items names that engage and resonate with your patrons.

Know Thy Brand

Before you embrace what is currently trending in the industry, you have to be aware of your own brand. If you’re a down-home roadside diner, customers may be turned off by exotic names that seem inappropriate for your venue. For instance, if you run Gordy’s Diner, you probably shouldn’t feature a Sliced Veal and Garlic Aioli Burger (an item which makes more sense at an urban bistro). Your customers are going to be more interested in Gordy’s Big Bacon Cheeseburger than a fancier and less relatable counterpart.

Since “what’s hot” in flavors and ingredients can change quickly in the restaurant industry, using smart naming strategies can help you stay on top of the trends and ahead of your competition. To help strengthen the pull of your menu – and offer a little brainstorm inspiration – here are some trend-based naming strategies for you to leverage:


Psychologist Charles Spence published a book entitled, “Neurogastronomy: How the Brain Creates Flavor and Why it Matters.” In this text, he touches on how the name of a dish affects diners and states, “Give it an ethnic label, such as an Italian name, and people will rate the food as more authentic. Add an evocative description, and people will make far more positive comments about a dish’s appeal and taste. A label directs a person’s attention toward a feature in a dish, and hence helps bring out certain flavors and textures.” For instance, a “Mediterranean” burger evokes an expectation of bright vegetables and coastal flavors. Taking something classic like a burger and giving it an ethnic spin, both in flavor and naming, makes it more noticeable on a modern menu.

Real people

New York restaurateur Danny Meyer shared his personal experience with using real people in menu naming. “People like the names of mothers, grandmothers and other relatives on their menus, and research shows they are much more likely to buy, say, Grandma’s zucchini cookies or Aunt Phyllis’s famous wedge salad.” Including personal names makes menu items seem more appealing and intimate. When asked about the process behind discovering what worked best, Mr. Meyer said, “The chefs write the music and the menu becomes the lyrics… and the wrong lyrics can torpedo the music.” Using names of employees, long-time patrons or local celebrities is another way to engage your customers and connect with them on a personal level – which, in turn, breeds loyalty and increased traffic and sales.

Trending ingredients

A BurgerBusiness.com article on “Burger Trends: Freshness & Loyalty” examined emerging ingredient trends, telling us to look for more “house-made sauces, relishes, aiolis, side dishes, and even cheeses.” In addition, Technomic states that pickled ingredients, “burnt” veggies and sides, and Indian, Korean and North African flavors are hot. And the overarching industry trend toward fresh, locally sourced ingredients continues as well. Explore how you can leverage local, fresh ingredients in your menu’s flavors and then draw the customer in by featuring those ingredients in your item naming.

Buzz phrases

Each year the National Restaurant Association puts out a series of downloads that highlight the food trends they believe will be top of mind for the next twelve months. These trends lend themselves to “buzz phrases” – descriptors that are, at the time, more likely to catch the attention of someone reading a menu. For example, one of the key trends relates to providing healthier cuisine to your patrons. In particular, dietary trends like “gluten free” give restaurants an option to cater to specialized dietary habits. Consider expanding your use of health-focused phrasing in your item naming to grab the attention of the many guests interested in trying something on the lighter side.

Shock value

Raw food chef and owner of Planet Raw, Chef Juliano, once served the “Apple Beet Raw Smoothie” at his café. No one wanted it. He decided to change the name to “Blood” and suddenly it was being ordered all the time. What does this say? Sometimes you can make a bigger impact with a single word that carries some shock value instead of a lengthy description. Finding your voice and finding the point where you are impacting those reading your menus will take testing and practice, but the return on investment will definitely be worth it. Try this in your operation by choosing an underperforming item and re-branding it with a new, attention-getting name.

Less is more

Finding the sweet spot between too much and too little when it comes to your menu naming is very difficult. GrubStreet, a food blog sponsored by NYmag, explains this in an article about why they think modern menus are lacking: “Thirty years ago, if a chef wanted to explain that he had braised beef cheeks or lamb chops on the menu, the menu would simply list “braised beef cheeks” or “grilled lamb chops,” possibly with the addition of something similarly easy to grasp, such as whipped potatoes and sautéed carrots. Now, dishes with such a simple description won’t fly at most high-end restaurants.” With specialty burgers and ingredients becoming so much more popular, how do you say what you need to without being too verbose? There is no set answer to this question, but there is a good way to address it. Menu testing can help you discover which phrasing gets the best response. By taking the same menu design and changing out basic wording on various dishes to see how customers order and interact with the menu, you will learn what works best for your guests.

There are no other offerings like the ones you serve, so make sure they get the attention they deserve. Whether you run a family-style restaurant, roadside diner, campus dining hall, or a new fast-casual hot spot, your guests are looking for menu offerings that are exciting, intriguing and maybe even a little bit adventurous. Use these naming techniques to give your menu true personality and make guests crave your offerings like never before.

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