How words can sell food: copywriting in menus

copywriting for menusEvery time I visit Las Iguanas, before I’ve even ordered I find myself longing for my next visit. One look at their menu tends to make me think a single meal is not enough. You can see on their website and promotional material that they put a bit of effort into their copywriting, but it’s impressive, and worth noting, that their sales efforts continue after you’ve settled down to eat. I imagine there’s some personal preference involved (if you despise Latin American food then you might not be convinced), but I can’t help but be drawn in by every item on the menu.

Being inordinately hungry at the time of my most recent visit, the enchilada particularly appealed:


Titanic tortilla on a bed of spring onion, garlic & coriander rice & sprinkled with crumbled white cheese.

Naturally anything promising to be epic and titanic had to be satisfying (and it was), which, in my great hunger, definitely helped me decide. That I find everything on the Las Iguanas menu appealing can otherwise be a slight problem. It’s not because I’m especially into Latin American food, or because I’ve sampled all these dishes before (I haven’t), it’s just that the descriptions are so convincing. Take the Bahia Moqueca:

Gorge on a silky, mild creamy coconut curry with peppers, garlic & fresh tomatoes. Chunky sweet plantain piled on spring onion, garlic & coriander rice, with spicy aji & toasted coconut farofa to sprinkle.

Practically poetry. It’s unashamed sales copy, trying to paint as tempting a picture as possible, but it’s something to enjoy. Nothing has been neglected, everything is sold to its fullest degree (do trawl through the items yourself). You really get a feel, from a few short words, as to what the benefit of eating one dish over another is. In those two examples above, you immediately know one is for a little decadent luxury, the other is to make your belly bloated. It’s copy that tells you more than the sum of its ingredients.

It makes an enormous difference to see a menu like this, as reading it alone builds up your desire. It’s a case of revelling in decadence: you know you’re being sold to, you know they’re just trying to make it sound good, but you still gargle with delight when you hear the food described. You want it more. You want to order more, you want to come back and try it again, you don’t even need to see the food.

Food adverts do this all the time, but that copywriting effort doesn’t always stretch to menus. Quite the opposite with some: I was looking over another menu yesterday (no names) where they offered “single course” or “half course” with the simple instruction that “two half course equal more than a whole“. Didn’t have a clue what was going on. A somewhat extreme example because it doesn’t even mention the food, but really – more people need to follow the Las Iguanas copywriting example and put in the requisite effort.

Of course though, as with any convincing sales copy, their delightful menu comes with an element of risk. They have to follow through on those descriptions, after that kind of hype. You couldn’t promise, say, “a deep, dark, richly delicious stew of slowly braised beef” that was actually a tough chunk of animal fat floating in vaguely curdling day-old dishwater. In fact, after a description like that, a mediocre strew would be enough to make me want to stab people.

Not to worry though; I personally think their standards meet the menu’s promises. (I’m not on a commission or anything, honest.) I think I was satisfied before I even ate, though, because the copy had convinced me I would be. Menu writers who are content to just write the names of the ingredients, take note.

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