A study from Cornell University’s Food and Brand Lab found descriptive labels drive more sales and repeat visits at not just restaurants, but cafeterias, too, which matches one of the top trends this year from the National Restaurant Association.
Changing menu names from something as simple as “Red Beans and Rice” to “Traditional Cajun Red Beans with Rice” increased sales by 27 percent at a major Midwestern university. The study altered the names of six dishes over six weeks and 140 participants were given a questionnaire at checkout to rate the food, cafeteria and how much money they’d be willing to pay for each item.
Twenty-seven percent more consumers chose the descriptive items and rated the cafeteria food much higher. They also said they were willing to pay almost 10 percent more for those items. The study—Do Descriptive Menu Labels Influence Restaurant Sales and Repatronage—was authored by Cornell marketing professor and director of the Cornell Food and Brand Lab Brian Wansink, James Painter and Koert van Ittersum.
Wansink suggests using this approach to help promote healthy and high-margin foods. More descriptive names might entice customers to try healthy or unusual foods. Other examples from the study included: Seafood Filet or Succulent Italian Seafood Filet, Grilled Chicken or Tender Grilled Chicken, Chicken Parmesan or Homestyle Chicken Parmesan, Chocolate Pudding or Satin Chocolate Pudding and Zucchini Cookies or Grandma’s Zucchini Cookies.
The authors offer several different examples of ways to rename basic dishes, using:
• Geographic labels, like Southwestern Tex-Mex Salad, “Real” Carolina Barbeque or Country Peach Tart;
• Nostalgia labels, like Classic Old World Italian or Nana’s Favorite Chicken Soup;
• Sensory labels, like Hearty Wholesome Steaks or Buttery Plump Pasta;
• Brand labels, like Black Angus Beef Burgers or Butterfinger Blizzard, although legal and licensing costs may make this cost prohibitive.
If the Cornell study shows descriptive labels can boost sales in onsite cafeterias and not just restaurants, another idea would be to name dishes after the farm or farmers where the products are sourced. Jax Fish House & Oyster Bar Restaurants in Colorado recently found that changing its lobster roll to the Captain Bobby Springer Maine Lobster resulted in a 27-percent increase in sales. Farm- and estate-branded items cracked the National Restaurant Association’s annual top list of trends this year, too.
You may not be serving up lobster, but when sourcing sustainable and even underused seafood, why not try a more descriptive and specific name?
Read a summary of the study for more on how it was conducted and the results.