Expensive restaurants use embellished language in menus to charge more per meal

The team found that when a restaurant used longer words to describe a dish, it charged more for the dish itself

Roisin O'Connor
Monday 16 February 2015 13:21 GMT

A group of scientists have analysed words used on restaurant menus to discover a variety of differences between cheap and more expensive restaurants.

Dan Jurafsky, a linguistics and computer science professor at Stanford University, found that fancier establishments filled their menus with embellished language and terms that many people may never have come across as a way to increase the price.

In a report titled The Language of Food, which was published in 2014, Jurafsky and his colleagues looked at the prices of 650,000 dishes on 6,500 menus, using statistical tools to learn which words were associated with higher and lower prices.

Restaurants were covered across seven cities in America (New York, Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia, Washington DC, San Francisco and Los Angeles), and software was created to check language used in the menus, as well as the number of references to farms, ranches, woodlands, gardens, heritage pork or heirloom tomatoes.

(Additional details such as chickens being 'corn-fed' were seen more in expensive restaurants to increase the appeal and assumed quality of the food)

The team found that when a restaurant used longer words to describe a dish, it charged more for the dish itself. Each increase of one letter in the average length of words was associated with an increase of 18 cents in the price (10p).

So-called "appealing adjectives" like zesty, rich or crispy were seen to be used as a way of removing obligation for the meal and whether the consumer enjoyed it.

Equally, restaurant-goers were encouraged to check the use of the word "exotic" when describing a dish. Meals that boasted of "exotic spices" and "exotic vegetables" were found to raise the price of the dish.

Expensive food was also often described in sexual terms in online reviews of restaurants, while reviews of cheap restaurants or junk food were infused with drugs references.

Jurafsky told the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting in San Jose on 15 February 2015 that people who liked the expensive restaurants referred to elements of a meal with terms such as "orgasmic" and "seductive".

He said that although it was unclear as to why sexual terms were used for expensive food, there was a clear link between the two because they were both oral pleasures.

"Maybe people at these flashy restaurants are on dates and already thinking about sex," he suggested.

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