The Language of Menus

Chef Toby Nameth of Toronto’s Jamie Kennedy Wine Bar has learned that every word on her menu can influence her customers’ orders. Nameth explains the naming—and renaming—of a dish the National Post describes as “slowly cooked oxtail served in its own beefy liquid and topped with a poached egg.”

‘The first day, I put the dish as “Oxtail in broth with poached egg,”’ she says. ‘It sold really badly and I was so frustrated and irritated.’

Undeterred by the lack of sales, she edited her description, and tried the exact same dish again on the next day’s menu.

‘This time, I wrote ‘Braised oxtail with poached eggs’ and it sold right away,’ she laughs. ‘The word ‘braised’ made all the difference.’

Raimundo Gaby, an associate professor who teaches menu development at the Culinary Institute of America in New York, had a similar experience at the cooking school’s Escoffier Restaurant. When the duck breast with fava beans and cabbage wasn’t selling well, she added the word grilled to describe the duck and swapped the cabbage with parsnip-and-pear gratin. “Root vegetables are difficult, but when we added pear, it really worked,” Gaby explains.

Of course, there are a few ingredients that most customers just can’t resist:

‘Put whatever you want with scallops and it will work,’ [Nameth] says. ‘Some ingredients, no matter what you do, will always sell. Wrap something in bacon–people go crazy for that stuff.’

What are some other irresistible ingredients?

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