Restaurants can list their offerings as "chicken," "steak" and "pasta," or they can add a few descriptive adjectives to their menus and up their sales by 27 percent.
Cornell University's Brian Wansink's findings were a hot topic when the New York Times reported them late last year. But the publicity hasn't stopped restaurants from lacing their menu descriptions with terms aimed at increasing profitability.
Here, drawn from the menus of the Dallas restaurants booked most frequently through Open Table (OK, it's not highly scientific, but we don't work at Cornell), are five items labeled with adjectives that seem to be persuading DFW area restaurant patrons to part with their money:
1. Steamed Wild King Salmon "Hong Kong Style" Bok Choy, Ginger, Soy / Five Sixty
Here's what makes wild so brilliant: Not only does it denote environmental sensitivity, it appeals to the diner as an adventurer. It's a subtle way of saying "Hey, you're blowing your expense account at a Wolfgang Puck restaurant helmed by a talented woman, but you're just as much of a man as your steakhouse-going colleagues." Who wouldn't be wild about that?
2. Volcano'd Big Eye Tuna Tartare with Avocado Puree & House Fired White Corn Chips / Hibiscus
Another girly dish made manly by the right adjectives: Volcanoes and fire seem to have very little to do with a spa-suited plate of raw tuna and mashed avocados. But what's more interesting here is "house fired," a variation of the ever-popular "housemade," "homemade," "hand-crafted" and "in-house," modifiers that adorn menus around town. Diners fall hard for the ultra-local connotations, but there's always a risk that they'll wonder where the items without the beloved adjective originated.
3. Bay of Fundy Salmon, Provencal Hash, Serrano Scented Tartar Sauce / Al Biernat's
Diners who tremble at the thought of spicy food take incredible comfort in "scented," which implies the threatening ingredient's barely noticeable. Dishes are rarely "serrano-burdened" or "serrano-filled." Instead, most restaurants go with the oh-so-delicate "scented" formulation when dealing with potentially divisive items like peppers.
4. Local Farmers' Salad with Paula's Hoja Santa Goat Cheese and Texas San Saba Pecan Vinaigrette / Stephen Pyles
Research shows customers like to see relatives' names on menus, and while Stephen Pyles has resisted referring to Dallas' leading cheesemaker as Auntie Paula, his use of her name still hits the mark. Paula Lambert's Hoja Santa goat cheese is sold under The Mozzarella Company's label, not her own name. But referring to Lambert by her first name suggests an old-timey chumminess that comforts restaurant guests.
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5. Scallops in bacon / III Forks
While bacon isn't exactly an adjective, there are probably few menu words so winning. Diners love bacon, and will order almost any dish in which it plays even a cameo role. It's a word restaurant goers absolutely can't resist.