The Effects of Descriptive Food Names on Impressions, Anticipated Satisfaction, and Willingness to Pay More


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Virginia Tech


Descriptive menu labels are omnipresent elements in restaurant menus. Food service operations often use sensory, nostalgic, and brand descriptions to signal a customer's food-specific perceptions. Extant research has shown links between descriptive menu labels and food taste/enjoyment perceptions. To extend and expand the extant literature, this dissertation proposes that descriptive menu labels can be viewed as an anthropomorphizing factor, leading to different magnitudes of consumption-related attitudes and behavioral intentions in a restaurant.

Drawing from metaphoric transfer theory and social impression models, the present research study suggests that descriptive labels in a restaurant transmit metaphors that influence consumers' impending warmth and competence perceptions of a restaurant. This dissertation also investigates the potential inversed magnitudes of anticipated satisfaction and willingness-to-pay-more driven by warmth/competence. In this empirical study, descriptive menu labels were experimentally manipulated. Consumers' warmth-related and competence-related service impressions, anticipated satisfaction, and willingness-to-pay-more more were measured.

The empirical investigation comprised two pretests and one main study. The hypotheses were tested in two menu contexts (an entrée menu vs. a dessert menu). Overall, the results suggest that customers view a restaurant with sensory- and nostalgia-triggering descriptions as offering warmer impending services (i.e., with kindness, generosity, and understanding) compared to a restaurant with general descriptions. On the other hand, customers view a restaurant that utilizes brand-related descriptions as providing more competent and skilled impending services than a restaurant that utilizes general descriptions. In addition, the findings suggest that consumers' warmth impressions serve a more important role in their anticipated satisfaction than do their competence impressions; however, regarding willingness-to-pay-more, competence impressions factor more significantly than do warmth impressions. The replications of the results across the two menu contexts showed the robustness of the findings; however, there was a different pattern observed for the effects of sensory labels on consumers' warmth-related impressions in the dessert menu selection context.

This dissertation contributes to emerging streams of menu labeling and service management literature. The findings presented in this dissertation have both theoretical and managerial implications for the food service industry.



Descriptive Menu Labels, Impression Management, Anticipated Satisfaction, Willingness to Pay More