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What to consider when writing a menu for your restaurant, hotel or pub

By Charli Matthews

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Menu, Pizza

There are a number of things you should consider when writing your menu to ensure it fits your brand and is appealing to diners
There are a number of things you should consider when writing your menu to ensure it fits your brand and is appealing to diners
Charli Matthews of writing and brand language consultancy The Writer, gives her top tips on how restaurants, hotels and pubs should approach menu-writing. 

A menu is doing more work than you might think. It’s got to sell, true, but it’s representing your brand too. Diners discuss them, point things out to one another. And if you’ve ever been left waiting for a friend in a restaurant, you’ll know just how much attention a menu can get. So how do you get your menu right? 

Be consistent

If you’ve got a cosy restaurant by the seaside, don’t write your menu like a fancy French restaurant in Mayfair. Make sure the tone of what you write fits with the tone of your brand.

Be tactical

When we rewrote the menu for The Real Greek, we talked about their business model before we tasted a thing. So think about: how many people order three courses? What do you make great money on but not sell much of? Do people know how many sharing dishes to get? Then write your menu to match.

Find the interest

When we wrote the Zizzi menu, we went through every item and asked the (patient) chefs ridiculous numbers of questions. Gather as much detail as you can and then decide what's going to interest your diners most. 

It could be: 

  • a fact​ – ‘we slow roast our pork belly for exactly six hours and 27 minutes’
  • an opinion ​– ‘we chose to work with this vineyard because they’re every bit as fastidious as we are when it comes to wine’
  • a story​ – ‘our chefs have a combined experience of 97 years, a love of all things veggie and a worrying obsession with giant jenga, which we have in the garden’
  • a metaphor​ – ‘this pizza resembles a cooked kid’s painting, the way we pile on the toppings’

Use unusual terms and words 

Try using some unexpected words such as 'burly ​chunks of mozzarella', or 'Rough-edged spaghetti grips​ on to a tomato and white wine sauce."​ This is especially good in those bits of writing most people forget about, like the lines about health and safety. You could say, "Can't/won't eat something? Tell someone." 

Keep it simple

Retailer Marks & Spencer can get away with all that ‘this is not just smoked salmon’ stuff. On a menu it tends to sound pretentious. For Zizzi we really stripped back some of the descriptions. For their Margherita pizza, for example, we wrote: 'Tomato. Mozzarella. Olive oil. Basil. Nothing more.'   

Picture a chef

If I’m stuck on where to start with a menu I picture a chef and think of their personality. 

Pick a TV chef with a strong personality, someone like Jamie Oliver, Delia Smith, Nigella Lawson or Gordon Ramsay, and think about their style of presenting.

Oliver uses words like 'dollop, chuck or wodge' while Lawson is more likely to say something like 'exquisite, rambunctious and naughty'. ​Ramsay is all about short, sharp, straightforward statements. 

Picture your chef when you write your menu and channel their style. 

Use tricks in moderation

This is really important. Do any one of the things suggested previously too much and your menu will sound odd. Try reading it out loud. If you put on a funny voice, it’s not working. You want to be able to sound natural and confident.

Think like a chef and try out different things

Your first attempt at writing, or rewriting, a menu doesn’t have to be your only option. Ask diners or people you know for feedback and use their comments to improve your menu.

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1 comment

Terrible advice

Posted by Sarah,

This advice is absolutely terrible. All the examples are nonsense - burly means 'heavy, strong, muscular', which is not a good way to describe a soft, giving cheese. 'Tell someone' rather than 'please speak to your waiter' is ridiculously vague and leaves the restaurant open to litigation if someone accidentally eats a nut. As for the chefs and their jenga... *all future customers of the restaurant roll their eyes*. It's all nonsense that gets in the way of customers trying to identify what they're going to have to eat. Obstructive copy is always bad copy.

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