Skills Focus: Words That Sell

This week’s we are going to talk about something awesome.  It is incredible.  You could call it huge.  Everyone loves it.  History will reflect upon it as epic.  It is mega-spectacular.  If it were any better it would be made illegal.

And in spite of all of those adjectives you still have no idea what I am talking about.

The topic for the week is adjectives.  We will be looking at those little descriptive words that we are all told at some point in our career will help sell food.  The problem is that the lesson usually stops there.  We have been trained to use adjectives to describe food, but not the fact that most adjectives are ineffective in selling food.  Servers who describe food using adjectives like the ones in the first paragraph are not moving their customers any closer to buying the meal they are describing.

Using Words That Sell

A few teaching notes on this topic:

Adjectives Sell By Creating An Image:  The reasons adjectives work is by starting a mental picture in the guests mind.  When they are able to begin to imagine how the dish will look or taste, it begins to stimulate the pleasure centers in the brain.  Their brain will begin craving the dish.  This is the benefit of adjectives.  Unfortunately, generic adjectives like “awesome” or “incredible” do not start painting that picture.

Generic Adjectives Are Wasted Words:  Do not use any adjective to describe food that could be used in the same way to describe a car.  The words you use should stir the senses.  Words that describe flavor and texture are the most effective.  Telling someone that the dish is incredible is far less effective than making clear through your description you think it is incredible.

Avoid “Mad Lib” Descriptions:  Instead of using any adjective that comes to mind, make sure you are using ones that actually describe the food.  This does not mean randomly inserting adjectives into a description.  Picture the dish in your head and use words that you feel accurately describe the dish.

How to teach this skill:

Monday-Wednesday: Explain the basic concept of specific vs. generic adjectives.  Pick an item off the menu that is popular and most of your staff has tried.  Ask them to give you an adjective that describes that specific dish.  Stop them if they use a word that is generic and ask for a better word.

Thursday-Friday:  Pick a dish off the menu and ask for a volunteer to give three specific adjectives to describe it.  By this point your staff should be picking up on some of the more interesting words used by their co-workers.  See if you can come up with some that top what they use.  Again, stop them if they use a generic adjective.

Saturday-Sunday:  Declare your dining room a generic adjective free zone.  Ask a couple of staff members to describe a meal as they would to a guest who asked for a recommendation.  This is the culmination of the last three weeks of the skills focus.  The descriptions should be polished, professional, and make you want to eat the food they are describing.

As an added teaching tool with this week’s skill focus I am putting a special bonus on the server version of this lesson.  I would always encourage you to refer your top performers, as well as anyone struggling with the concepts, to visit the server skills focus at  This week I am including a downloadable list of adjectives that can be used for food.  You can make a copy for your server’s bulletin board or run copies for your staff.  If you can find a way to utilize the training material, you will find that your staff is more receptive to the idea and increase their desire to integrate this into their routines.

Tips²: Tips For Improving Your Tips, the new book from the author of The Manager’s Office, teaches the skills of exceptional servers that will increase customer satisfaction and dramatically improve restaurant sales.  This book is more than a server training manual.  It is the secret to teaching your staff to enjoy selling and give your guests the experience that will create raving fans.  To learn more about the book, visit  Use the coupon code “MANAGER” to save 20% at the checkout.

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About David Hayden

David Hayden is a restaurant marketing and training consultant based in Kansas City, MO. He writes a series of 9 blogs collectively known as The Hospitality Formula Network and is the author of "Tips2: Tips For Improving Your Tips" and "Building Your Brand With Facebook"

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