Functional versus emotional descriptions in restaurant menus

We all know the power of storytelling in marketing, especially when it comes to adding personality, emotion, and memorability to your brand message.  Since we do work with restaurant clients, and we got to thinking– should we add storytelling into menu item descriptions?  We realized that this was bit of a radical idea, since we had only seen a couple of instances of stories being told in menu items.  So, we decided to proceed with caution and get quantitative data on the potential impact.

We picked 3 menu items, Street Tacos, Classic Margarita, and Cajeta (a dessert) to describe in two formats: 1) functional and 2) as a story.  We purposefully kept the length of copy for each option as similar as possible. Here’s the copy we used for each:

Menu description copy

What we learned:

  • Across the board the functional descriptions:
    • Were preferred by a very wide margin (70%+).   Driving the respondents preference were comments like, “I want to know the ingredients used and how it’s prepared.”
    • Drove the perception that the menu item is high quality (70%+)
    • Had higher purchase intent (60%+)
  • The storytelling descriptions had a strong impact on uniqueness.  Respondents felt that the storytelling versions made them think that the menu item is unique to the restaurant (40%+).


  • Be descriptive in menu copy within the space you have.  Let guests know if ingredients are locally sourced, hand picked, fresh, made from scratch, etc., as opposed to just listing them.  Also, describing how the dishes are prepared helps them visualize the item and guides them in their ordering choices.
  • Utilize storytelling to help convey the brand on the menu, on your website, in social. And you can use it sparingly for unique or signature menu items if they have a compelling backstory.

If you’d like to know more about our research or our work in restaurant marketing, please reach out.