Food adjectives: writing restaurant copy in Houston

Lunch Meatballs from 51fifteen Restaurant and Lounge.
Lunch Meatballs from 51fifteen Restaurant and Lounge.

Trying to describe that delicious meal you had?

Don’t.

Was it so good, that “juicy”, “moist”, or “oozing” are the only words you can come up with to describe it?

Then please, stop. Now.

Your “juicy moistness” is “oozing” all over the place, and it’s making me want to throw up before I even sit down for dinner. Over the last year and a half I’ve been writing copy for restaurants in Houston, TX. I used and overused words like “delicious”, “good”, and “great” and read major Houston food bloggers using amazing and some questionable adjectives to praise and bash places.

Last year, I came up with a list of food adjectives to avoid and food adjectives to use. Today, I’m going to share these with you, so you can start writing better food descriptions.

Steal

T.S. Eliot, Aaron Sorkin, and many others have been quoted as saying, in some form or fashion, that “great writers steal”. This is also the same reason why they teach “imitation” in many writing classes, such as the Writing and Reading Poetry class at the MIT Open Courseware site.

Although, imitation and “stealing” are part of the writing process, it doesn’t mean that you just copy and paste straight into your final product. Scan the web for your local competitors’ websites and social media profiles. Look at the most successful web presences of that year by restaurants in your area of competition. Mine was Houston, TX. But look in other major cities as well. Keep looking, and don’t be surprised to find that some restaurants will have almost no web presence.

Either bookmark pages or copy and paste great lines of copy in a word document just for reference. This document is not to be used in your final product, it is just a reference guide for you. You should start seeing lines that you wish you had written. These are the ones you want to imitate.

What does good copy look like?

Take Michael Jordan’s Steakhouse, for example. This quote is from their About Us page.

“It’s a belief in the steak, not the sizzle. It starts long before the meal hits the plate, before the restaurant doors open, or before the lights go on. It begins with a conviction, a way of doing things that elevates the king of meals to Michael Jordan’s rarified celebrity status. And it’s in everything we do.”

This is an excellent piece of web copy. This lets me know the company’s mission, values, commitment, and makes me hungry at the same time. Let’s look at the adjectives here. The main one is “sizzle”. Keep it. Save the quote for later.

Find something on each website or social media profile you visit. There’s got to be something. Even if it’s just a word or unrelated phrase that you really like. Copy and save it.

What does bad copy look like?

You’ll also find some terrible ones. I don’t about you, but reading “gushing” or “oozing” to describe food is not appetizing to me. Neither does using “food porn” in an article or any other copy. Ever. Some of these are subjective and each writer must make that final decision of what to include in their copy, but if you’re representing a traditional or conservative restaurant group, then you will need to think twice before publishing “Food porn alert: Try our bloody steak. Stick it in your mouth, it’s oozing with juiciness”. Not appetizing.

Sensory marketing

You probably noticed something as you were reading through various restaurant and food copy. You may have been getting cravings. Getting hungry. If the copy is good, it will start to stir some real physical reaction in the reader. You should strive to get your readers wanting to eat by using some the words included in the list below. Words like “good”, “great”, and “awesome” are general positive adjectives, and are not likely to make you hungry. You want to find specific positive adjectives to describe food.

“Premium soft oven-baked triple chocolate cake, with a generous scoop of savory vanilla ice cream, drizzled with creamy caramel” sounds more enticing than “delicious chocolate-caramel cake”. Also, a photo goes along way with sensory marketing, so try to attach a professional photo of the dish. You may have noticed that describing delicious food starts to sound sexual. Often, a dish is described as “sinful” or “tempting”. These are some trigger words, and should be used sparingly and subtly. You don’t want your copy reading like an erotic novel.

The list

So here is the list of food adjectives to use and ones to avoid. Notice that there may be some that can be used for bad or good such as the words “moist” and “crunchy”, which grosses some people out, but can be used in an appetizing piece of copy as well. The best piece of advice I got from my Creative Writing professor in my undergrad was “writing is revising”. Keep editing and revising, and ask others what they think. Take their critique or advice with a grain of salt, and revise again.

What words would you add to this list? Comment below. Don’t forget to sign up for your insider newsletter.

Here is the list of good food adjectives to use:

ambrosial
appetizing
appealing
alluring
attractive
artisan
baked
blended
braised
breaded
caramalized
choice
creamy
crisp(y)
crunchy
crusted
dazzling
delectable
delicious / delish
delightful
dream, dreamy,
drizzled, drizzling
enticing
excellent
fabulous
fine, finest
flavorful
forever braised
fork tender
fresh, freshly, freshest
fresh sliced
full-bodied
gingery
glazed
good / goodness
great
grilled
hand-prepared
homemade
hot
indulgent
interesting
inviting
juicy
lip-smacking
lemony
lovely
luscious
melted
mild-tasting
moist
mouth-watering
nutty, nutlike
oven-roasted
pan-seared
peppery / peppered
piquant
pleasant
refreshing
rich
roasted
robust
satisfying, satisfy, satisfaction
savory
scrumptious
seared
seasonal
seasoned
sinful
slow-roasted
smoky, smoked
special
spicy
sweet
succulent
sugary
sugary sweet
sugary sweet goodness
superb
tangy
tantalizing
tart
tasty
temptation / tempting
tender
toasty
toothsome
traditional
yummy
warm
warm baked
wood-fire grilled
zesty

Here is the list of food adjectives to avoid:

bad
bitter
cheap
cheesy
crunchy
disgusting
fried
funky
greasy
gross
inedible
junk food
lacking flavor
moist
mushy
oily
rancid
revolting
ripe
rubbery
slop
sour
stale
sticky
trashy
old
oozing

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