David B Townsend
Menu Descriptions Create Expectation and Exploration
Like a good movie trailer, the menu can be the teaser to get the guest to sit down to enjoy the feature which is your whole menu. If they like what they see on the page, they likely will order one or two items, and return for a second showing if they like what they then experience on the plate.
Inviting menu descriptions make the menu interesting and fun, create visual images of the dish, and most certainly create the interest in exploring several items. If you describe your items with some flair a table of four or more is likely to order different items and share a variety of dishes.
A creative menu can help tell a story and bring customers back to try different items on a second or third visit. Once they try your signature 'Cool Avocado and Asparagus Salad with Creamy Cucumber Dressing', they will want to come back for the 'Wilted Spinach Glazed with a Warm Balsamic Vinaigrette' as well. Sounds interesting, Yea? Especially if you offer 'locally grown' asparagus or other regional produce.
A menu should use wording to address the APPEARANCE, TATSE, and TEXTURE. Descriptives like blackened, zesty or crispy exemplify these three elements. The origin of the raw product is also intriguing, as in Alaskan Halibut, or Wisconsin Colby Cheese.
In the Sierra Foothill's area of Grass Valley, caterer Antonio Ayestarán not only creates dramatic menu presentations on the plate but uses beautiful descriptions to create anticipation of what the meal will be. Here are a few of his creative descriptions:
"Italian Bruschetta with shaved Parmesan Cheese and Balsamic Syrup"
"Arugula and Spinach tossed with Champagne Vinaigrette topped with Slivered Pears, Candied Walnuts, and Shafts' Blue Cheese"
"Filet Mignon with candied Jam Gruyere Cheese Streusel topped with a Red Beet Garnish, Mushroom Ragout and Port Wine Demi Glace"
You're not serving steak on a plate with mashed potatoes, you're serving a Filet as described above with 'Wisconsin Butter & Sour Cream Infused Smashed Yukon Gold Potatoes with Chive and Bacon Bits.' Ok, this one is a bit over-the-top, but If you saw this on a menu you'd probably want to come back if you didn't order it on your first visit.
A menu should not only use words to create a story but be easily read, from the font size to the overall layout of the various category of items. Unless you are designing for a specific visual effect, prices should always be right justified and easily understood. If there are add-ons to basic items, make it clear and also make sure your servers know to ask if a guest wants chicken or shrimp on a Caesar Salad.
You can Google a dozen or more websites for ideas but don't overdo the verbiage as it can become whimsical, if not careful. Don't use words which don't present an honest interpretation of the meal or which your cooks or servers don't really understand.
As a Spring 2018 addendum, I give you a list of very colorful descriptions of the Luncheon Menu from the Royal Wedding this past May: [from MSN / Gourmandize article]
The royal wedding started off with a luncheon that was hosted by The Queen. According to Delish, the appetizers and nibbles included:
Scottish Langoustines wrapped in Smoked Salmon with Citrus Crème Fraiche
Grilled English Asparagus wrapped in Cumbrian Ham
Garden Pea Panna Cotta with Quail Eggs and Lemon Verbena
Heritage Tomato and Basil Tartare with Balsamic Pearls
Poached Free Range Chicken bound in a Lightly Spiced Yoghurt with Roasted Apricot
Croquette of Confit Windsor Lamb, Roasted Vegetables and Shallot Jam
Warm Asparagus Spears with Mozzarella and Sun-Blush Tomatoes