Are your diners a little lost?

| by S.A. Whitehead
Are your diners a little lost?

There's a lot of confusion out there in your chain's dining rooms and drive-thru lanes — much of it around the issue of exactly what those complicated menu items are. That's the overall finding of a Harris Poll conducted this past March by OpenTable on menu jargon among Americans who eat out often. 

The results of the spring poll of adult diners show that nearly one third of all respondants (29 percent) think the descriptions on restaurant menus are a lot more confusing than they need to be, while more than half said they actually feared that ordering something with an unknown ingredient might "ruin their dining experience." Likewise, for nearly three-quarters of respondants, there was some trepidation about wasting their money at a restaurant if the meal they ordered really stinks. 

In short, diners are feeling a little cagey about all the unusual stuff that many restaurateurs put on their menus. Menu planners and chefs create these complicated dishes often ethnic favorites under the assumption that's what their guests are clamoring for. In fact, quite a few of them are being left in the dust, according to the survey, which found that more than half of diners have no idea what several of the popular current menu items actually are. 

"With chefs continuing to scour the globe for unique dish ingredients and cookbooks to revive forgotten techniques, it is understandable that many diners may be confounded by certain terms on a menu," said OpenTable Chief Dining Officer Caroline Potter.  "While two-thirds of diners aren't embarrassed by their confusion and are typically happy to ask their server for a little guidance, with all the passion and energy that chefs and restaurateurs put into the creation of their menus, they should be aware that one in five diners simply won't order a menu item with a description they don't understand."

Some good news though, for digital menus, came out of the survey, which found that more than half of respondants say menu items or a menu glossary would make them more likely to order an unfamiliar dish. Finally, if you're wondering what terms specifically threw off a lot of folks, here were the top 10 least understood menu items of those in the poll, according to OpenTable: 

  1. Okonomiyaki 
  2. Gochujang 
  3. Piri piri 
  4. Yuzu 
  5. Bibimbap 
  6. Gougere 
  7. Guanciale 
  8. Shiso 
  9. En brodo 
  10. Ballotine 

Topics: Customer Service / Experience, Digital Signage, Menu Boards, Menu Labeling

S.A. Whitehead

Award-winning veteran print and broadcast journalist, Shelly Whitehead, has spent most of the last 30 years reporting for TV and newspapers, including the former Kentucky and Cincinnati Post and a number of network news affiliates nationally. She brings her cumulative experience as a multimedia storyteller and video producer to the web-based pages of and after a lifelong “love affair” with reporting the stories behind the businesses that make our world go ‘round. Ms. Whitehead is driven to find and share news of the many professional passions people take to work with them every day in the pizza and quick-service restaurant industry. She is particularly interested in the growing role of sustainable agriculture and nutrition in food service worldwide and is always ready to move on great story ideas and news tips.

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