a restaurant menu board with optimized menu descriptions

How to write captivating menu descriptions that will increase your delivery and takeout sales

When thinking about writing a menu that will increase your delivery and takeout sales, it’s important to remember that your menu is your first impression with your customers. Your menu is a reflection of your restaurant’s concept, style and quality that you deliver. If crafted correctly, menu descriptions encourage customers to order and ultimately set their meal expectations. 

With 86% of millennials opting to try a new restaurant based on food-related content they spotted online, creating mouthwatering menu descriptions will help entice in-person diners as well as helping you stand out on an online ordering platform like Grubhub Marketplace. 

Five tips for writing mouth-watering menu descriptions

Here are five tips to help you create compelling food descriptions and perfect your restaurant menu.

Use your menu descriptions to highlight critical differentiators

According to the Food and Brand Lab at Cornell University, using descriptive words on your menu can boost sales by 27%. Of course, some of those words are obvious food-related adjectives (more on those in a moment). However, they also focus on what makes your menu items different from those offered by your competition. 

For instance, some 62% of diners say they’re more likely to eat at restaurants that use locally sourced ingredients. To capture those diners it’s important to highlight locally sourced ingredients in your menu descriptions.  

Nostalgia, quality, and authenticity are also high on the list of things consumers value and look for on menu restaurants.

 

captivating menu description example

  • Simple description: Steak and fries
  • Stronger description: Charcoal-grilled local Kolmar Farms strip steak and hand-cut Idaho russet fries
  • Simple description: House salad
  • Stronger description: House-grown greens with spring vegetables and tangy Meyer lemon vinaigrette

Depending on your menu format, you may use a simple title followed by a more expansive description:

  • Grandma’s Sunday Gravy: Grandma’s secret sauce with San Marzano tomatoes and fresh oregano simmered for eight hours then poured over handmade spaghetti

Some people will only read the title, so make sure it pops. Think of the title as the sound byte and the following description as the entire song.

Keep your menu descriptions concise

When you’re proud of your menu items, it’s natural to try to include every adjective you can think of. The problem with long descriptions is that guests rarely read them.

Keep descriptions short and concise, relying on words that pack a punch to paint a vivid and enticing picture. Remember, you’re giving guests just enough information to make their mouths water. 

If you need to pare back a lengthy description, consider which words are selling points and which are just fluff.

Concise menu description example

  • Okay description: Tasty pan-seared 1-lb Kolmar Farms cheeseburger with soft sesame-stuffed brioche bun, delicious roasted garlic aioli, crisp lettuce, fresh tomato, and red onion
  • Better description: Juicy 1-lb Kolmar Farms cheeseburger with roasted garlic aioli on a brioche bun

The second description still has some heft, but we’ve removed low-value adjectives like “tasty” and “soft” while still emphasizing the burger’s flavor, texture, and even the origin of the meat.

Write enticing menu descriptions using words designed to ignite the senses

Those descriptive words mentioned above are back in a big way. 

Consider this: On average, guests spend just 109 seconds perusing their menu. You have less than two minutes to introduce all your menu items, highlight the ones that make you the most money, and make it easier for guests to decide what to order.

Using words that speak to each of the five senses tantalizes diners while also setting expectations about what guests will be getting when their plate, bowl, or glass finally arrives.

Start with words that describe texture and flavor:

Start with words that describe texture and flavor:

  • Crunchy
  • Crispy

  • Creamy

  • Smoky

  • Velvety

  • Zesty

  • Chewy

  • Tart

  • Light

  • Tender

  • Sticky

  • Runny

  • Sweet

  • Tangy

  • Rich

  • Airy

  • Flaky

  • Doughty

Other descriptors might relate to the preparation, such as:

  • Toasted
  • Pan-seared
  • Stuffed
  • Reduction
  • Smothered
  • Sizzling
  • Slow-roasted
  • Simmered
  • Char-grilled
  • Kneaded
  • Encrusted
  • Marinated
  • Glazed
  • Deep-fried
  • Fermented
  • Sauteed
  • Sous vide
  • Whipped
  • Stewed

Then some words hint as to how a dish will make you feel:

 

  • Refreshing

  • Comforting

  • Mouthwatering

  • Sinful

Descriptive menu item example

  • Simple description: Lobster with linguini in cream sauce
  • Stronger description: Butter-poached Maine lobster with oven-roasted local tomatoes, handmade linguini, and a peppery tarragon cream sauce
  •  
  • Simple description: Pears and vanilla gelato
  • Stronger description: Cinnamon baked Anjou pears with creamy honey-vanilla gelato and crunchy candied pecans

Include quantity and drop the dollar sign

Guests should always know how much they’re getting and what that serving will cost. Anything shared, such as an appetizer or family-style entrée, should be clearly denoted as a larger portion as part of the menu description. 

  • Simple description: Crab rangoon
  • Better description: Six pieces of crispy crab Rangoon stuffed with creamy cheese and jumbo lump crab

Additionally, consider dropping the dollar sign. One study found that diners make a stronger financial association when menu items are priced using a dollar sign. As a result, they opt for cheaper choices

 

Instead, experts recommend using a standalone numeral with no dots or dashes in between the number and description.

  • Simple description: Crab rangoon………… $12
  • Stronger description: Six pieces of crispy crab Rangoon stuffed with creamy cheese and jumbo lump crab 12

Know your audience

When was the last time you wrote an email without first knowing who you were sending it to? Your menu is a message, and while it may not be personalized for every customer reading it, you can tailor your descriptions to your audience — as long as you understand who that audience is.


From gen-z diners looking for healthy and sustainable menu options to millennials who love to explore new flavors and cuisines, diners span all kinds of demographics. Each of those demographics has its own way of talking, absorbing information, and determining where they want to eat.

The next step to optimizing your menu for online ordering success? Food photography!

The only thing better than describing your menu items is offering customers actual photographs. The best scenario is pairing excellent descriptions with equally fantastic photos. Studies show that people only remember about 10% of the information they read, but if you combine that information with a corresponding image, recall rates jump to 65%

At Grubhub, we’ve seen how impactful food photography can be for restaurant’s takeout and delivery sales. According to Grubhub research, restaurants with photos in their menu received 70% more online orders and 65% higher takeout and delivery sales. 

Are you worried about finding and vetting a professional food photographer? When you partner with Grubhub for Restaurants, we’ll send a professional photographer to your restaurant to take incredible photos of your food — all for free.

Optimize your menu for takeout and delivery success with Grubhub for Restaurants

Your menu is an extension of your restaurant’s brand. Mouthwatering menu descriptions aren’t just window dressing; they’re your most significant opportunity to engage consumers and get them interested in your product. Add photography into the mix, and you’re silently selling every single dish on your menu without saying a word.

We’re here to help you optimize your online ordering menu for success. When you partner with 

Grubhub for restaurants, you’ll receive a dedicated Account Advisor, a restaurant success expert, invested in your restaurant’s success on the Grubhub platform. Not only will they schedule your free professional photoshoot, but they’ll also connect you with internal experts who can provide you menu consultation services designed to optimize your menu for takeout and delivery success.

Ready to get started? Sign up today!