Vol. 22, No. 4, Aug. 15, 2002
Creatively named menu items sell better, researchers show
Reutter, Business Editor
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CHAMPAIGN, Ill. Mark
Twain warned against overwrought descriptions, but then again Twain wasnt
in the business of selling food.
"Succulent," "legendary," "hearty-wholesome" and other words that evoke favorable associations with food will boost restaurant sales by 27 percent, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have found.
Brian Wansink, an Illinois marketing professor, and James Painter, manager of the Quantity Foods Laboratory, compared the reaction of 140 customers who regularly ate lunches at a university cafeteria.
Over a period of six weeks,
some menu items had plain-Jane labels (for example, "grilled chicken"
and "seafood filet"), while other foods had added verbiage like "succulent
Italian seafood filet" and "traditional Cajun red beans with rice."
Not only did customers purchase the descriptive items more frequently, they also rated them as being of higher quality and better value than did customers who ate items with unvarnished labels. "When people have positive associations with a descriptive label, a chain reaction of positive attitudes and intentions follows," Wansink and Painter wrote in an article to be published in Advances in Consumer Research. "After enjoying their meal, customers are more likely to give the meal a positive evaluation, and they are more likely to rate it as being of higher quality and of a better value."
However, the same customers are not willing to pay more for foods with adjectival overload, indicating that prose alone could not overcome resistance to high prices.
Wansink and Painter found three kinds of descriptive menu labels most effective in increasing sales geographic, nostalgic and sensory.
Labels that evoked the foods and flavors of specific regions such as "Iowa pork chops" or "Southwestern Tex-Mex salad" created positive responses.
So did labels that triggered happy memories of bygone days and family traditions. Examples included "Nanas favorite chicken soup" and "ye old potato bread."
Finally, descriptions such as "snappy" carrots and "buttery" pasta that referred to the texture, taste or smell of a menu item were found to be successful sellers.
Restaurant managers, however, should resist using descriptions that unjustifiably inflate an eaters expectations, the researchers warned. "Beware of the temptation to label yesterdays goulash as Royal Hungarian Top Sirloin Blend. It will generate first-time sales, but they may be the last."
Koert van Ittersum, a postdoctoral researcher at the Illinois department of business administration, is the third author of the forthcoming article.
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