The Way We Talk about Food Reveals What We're Willing to Pay

What does the language of food writing reveal about the eater him or herself? A lot more than you might expect

Photo Sasabune Omakase Modified: Flickr/erin/CC 4.0

A study from Stanford and Carnegie Mellon University reveals that how we talk about food is closely connected with how much we're willing to spend on it.

Apparently you do put your money where your mouth is. In a recent study conducted at Stanford and Carnegie Mellon University, researchers found several fascinating parallels between the way that consumers talk and write about food, and the value we attach to food.

For instance, positive reviews of expensive restaurants relied heavily on multisyllabic words like “sumptuous” and “unobtrusively,” as if to convey a sophisticated author. These reviews also tended to describe the meal in terms of sensual pleasures, “perhaps a way of demonstrating [the writer’s] sensuous, hedonistic nature.”

However, positive reviews of cheap dining experiences often included references to addiction and drug abuse, with metaphors describing a “desperate need of a fix” and foods that “must have crack” in them.

“The words you use when you write a restaurant review say as much about your own psychology as they do about which dish to order,” researcher and linguist Dan Jurafsky writes in the Financial Times.

The researchers also found that menu language correlated with predictable pricing. Put simply, “the more expensive the restaurant, the fancier the words.” However, expensive menus tended to be “shorter and more implicit” while the menus of middle-priced menus “were stuffed with adjectives.”

The cheapest restaurants tended to use “positive buy vague” language like “delicious” and “tasty.”

One final discovery from the research: the same model of fancier language to price ratio applied to advertising as well, except that more expensive products (in this case, chips) tended to use the language of negation (“never fried”). For each additional “no” on the packaging of a bag of chips, the snack cost four cents more per ounce.

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Karen Lo is an associate editor at The Daily Meal. Follow her on Twitter @appleplexy