October 24, 2004
Writing Menus - lesson 2

Now that you have a name for the dish, how should you describe it? It’s a bit more challenging to explain how to write a description, but here are some pointers and examples.

Some menus don’t use descriptions at all. This is fine if the name of the dish makes it obvious what it is. Vanilla ice cream probably doesn’t need much more information, unless it’s a an original recipe or served with optional toppings.

3 Points to Keep in Mind

  1. If you write a description for one entree or appetiser, you should write them for all the entrees/appetisers . Sides, desserts and beverages may not need descriptions, depending on how complex they are.

  2. Avoid vague adjectives. “Delicious chicken served with tasty potatoes” doesn’t say very much about the dish.

  3. Shorter is usually better. Diners don’t want to spend all night reading the menu! But some dishes require a bit more explanation than others—it’s OK to vary the length.

How to Create a Good Description

What do you want to say about the dish?

  • any of the elements you skipped in the name: region, cooking method, flavor, cut, or accompaniment
  • side dishes included with the dish
  • any original or unique aspects of the dish

There are two main ways to write desciptions: “straight” or “with personality.”

Straight descriptions focus on the food, its flavors, ingredients, and preparation.

Descriptions with personality address the diner directly: “You’ll love our smokey barbecue sauce”; “We combine potatoes and garlic to create the perfect mashed potato.”

It’s much harder to write descriptions with personality. You really need to know the restaurant’s atmosphere and even then, striking the right chord is a challenge. If you’re not sure, stick with straight descriptions. Personally, I find menus with too much personality a little annoying. Use sparingly.

Here are some examples, along with my comments:

Baked Chicken Breast with Chipotle Pepper Pasta

Example A:
Healthy, skinless, boneless chicken breast atop a bed of spicy pasta.
(Brief and to the point. Adds the idea that this dish is healthy and the pasta is spicy. Tells you where the chicken and pasta will be on the plate.)

Example B:
Smoky, spicy chipotle pepper pasta enhances a skinless chicken breast.
(Gives more detail about the pasta’s flavor but “enhances” is perhaps more opinion than fact.)

Example C:
Homemade smoked pepper pasta accompanies a skinless boneless chicken breast flavored with garlic and sherry.
(Takes the name of the dish a little further and tells about the flavor and preparation of both the pasta and the chicken.)

Example D:
Succulent baked chicken rests on top of a bed of delicious spicy pasta. This dish is a winner!
(This is bad. Uses a lot of vague adjectives and says nothing about the dish that isn’t already in the name.)

Example E:
Looking for a healthy option? This skinless, boneless chicken breast served over smokey spicy pasta cuts the fat without sacrificing the flavor.
(“with personality” focusses on the health benefits of the dish while also giving a little more information than was in the name)

Grilled Rosemary Lamb Chops with Garlic Mashed Potatoes

Example A:
Three chops served with potatoes, a salad and today’s vegetable.
(Brief. Tells how much lamb you get and what if comes with.)

Example B:
Three fresh Australian lamb chops grilled to perfection and served with mashed potatoes, a salad and the chef’s choice of vegetables.
(Again, tells you exactly what you’re getting. Also where the lamb came from. “to perfection” is perhaps more opinion than fact)

Example C:
Three Australian lamb chops rubbed with rosemary and garlic are served with flavored mashed potatoes, todays steamed vegetable, and a side salad complete with our exclusive raspberry-walnut dressing.
(Tells more about the preparation of the lamb and details of the side dishes)

Example D:
Juicy Australian lamb served with delectable mashed potatoes. Our chef’s favorite meal.
(Bad. No information that’s not in the name, unless you care that the chef likes it…)

Example E:
We fly custom-cut lamb chops from Australia, season them with rosemary and garlic then grill them to order. Paired with garlic mashed potatoes, a seasonal vegetable and our house salad.
(“with personality” lets the diner know that the lamb is specially imported and gives the list of sides.)

Vegetable Lasagne

Example A:
Layers of pasta and cheese alternating with seasonal vegetables and tomato sauce.
(simple and to the point but missing detail on the vegetables)

Example B:
Tender baked pasta layered with ricotta cheese, mushrooms, green beans, eggplant, onion and a garlic-y tomato sauce. Served with garlic bread and a side salad.
(Better. Lists the vegetables and the sides)

Example C:
A vegetarian-friendly baked Italian classic made with cheese, mushrooms, green beans, eggplant, onion and a tomato sauce. Served with homemade garlic bread and a side salad with your choice of Italian or French dressing.
(Focus on the vegetarian aspect, with good detail on the ingredients and sides)

Example D:
Hearty and filling lasagne stuffed with vegetables.
(Bad. What does this say that the name didn’t say?)

Example E:
Nobody ever goes home hungry after ordering our famous lasagne. Five layers of tender pasta, ricotta cheese, sauteed vegetables and tomato sauce are baked and served with garlic bread and a side salad. Mangia!
(“with personality” gives good details and a little Italian flair.)

Posted by kuri at October 24, 2004 07:09 AM


*is humgry now and it is way to early to eat*

Posted by: UltraBob on October 27, 2004 12:10 PM
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