When this site started in 2004, there was a feature where you could hover over complex food terms, and a bubble would pop up with the common meaning. We added the feature because many people didn’t have a clue what things like “En papillote” meant, and in those days menus were full of what were then obtuse terms. After 3-4 years, menus got more straightforward, diners more worldly, and the definitions went away.
I like to think I’m pretty clued in to cooking terms, but flowery menu jargon seems to be on an upswing. I occasionally come across a term that leaves me dazed and confused, especially as everyone at the table looks at me for the answer.
Obviously, I’m not the only one. OpenTable conducted a Harris Poll survey which revealed that 29% of respondents believe that some restaurant menus are more confusing than need be, and 56% are concerned that an unfamiliar ingredient will ruin their dining experience. According to the poll, “…one in five diners simply won’t order a menu item with a description they don’t understand”. The survey
“found that an overwhelming majority of diners (91%) say they are more likely to order a dish they are not familiar with if it has additional menu features. Diners also indicated that the future for digital menus may be bright with more than half saying photos of the menu items (53%) or a glossary of menu terminology (30%) would make them more likely to order a dish they are not familiar with. “
We have covered menu psychology on this site in the past, and there are a lot of differing opinions on what menu designs tend to make people order the greatest quantity or most expensive dishes, so I won’t repeat it here, but you can follow the link to find out more.
Curious about the terms they used to measure this? See how many of these terms you know; I missed five. They have ranked the list by the percentage of people who don’t know the term:
- Okonomiyaki (o-konomi-yaki) -69%
- Gochujang (go-choo-jang) -67%
- Piri piri (pir-ree-pir-ree) -64%
- Yuzu (yoo-zoo) -64%
- Bibimbap (bi-bim-bop) -64%
- Gougere (ɡo͞oˈZHer) -63%
- Guanciale (gwan-cha-lay) -62%
- Shiso (SHēsō) -62%
- En brodo (en BROH/doh) -61%
- Ballotine (bal- -teen) -61%
- Harissa (hah-ree-suh) -60%
- Patatas bravas (pəˌtɑːtəs ˈbrɑːvəs) -58%
- Meuniere (muh n-yair) -58%
- En papillote (ahn pa-pee-yawt) -57%
- A la plancha (ä lə ˈplän(t)SHə) -55%
- Lardo (lar-do) -55%
- Romesco (ruˈmesku) -55%
- Amuse bouche (ah-mooz-boosh) -55%
- Primi (pri-mi) -54%
- Pavlova (pav-luh-vuh) -54%
- Crudo (kruːdo) -54%
- Croustade (kroo-stahd) -52%
- Semifreddo (semi – freddo) -51%
- Terrine (tuh-reen) -51%
- Cremeux (kʀemø, øz) -50%
For a key and description for each one of these terms, check out the OpenTable “Restaurant Terms Explained“. You can see the full OpenTable press release here. Note: I did not receive compensation for running this piece. I just thought it was interesting.