As a copywriter in the Boise, Idaho area, I would like to take the opportunity now and again to put the spotlight on various people or institutions.  For better or worse will depend entirely upon them …

I recently went to dinner at a Chinese restaurant here in Boise, and admired some of the advertising on their menu.  “Wait a minute,” you say, “that’s not advertising!”  Well, yes, it is.  Sure, they’ve already got you in the door — but you haven’t bought anything yet.  You’ve committed to something, but not anything in particular.  You could have a glass of water and an appetizer.  And they have their own ideas about what they’d like you to eat.  This particular menu, at P.F. Chang’s on 8th Street, exhibited an interesting mix of very descriptive, colorful copy and rather bland item descriptions.

P.F. Changs

The title of the menu is “Try the Fire,” which leads into a short paragraph declaring that they are using methods strenuously researched to bring us ‘deliciously unique’ dishes.  On the other side of the pleasingly-antique-looking-but-plastic-laminated insert, is the name of each dish with a short description (and the price, of course).  At first glance, it is difficult to discern that that is indeed the price, and not a number in a list, but we’ll get into clarity in another post.  For now, I’d like to concentrate on the descriptions of the dishes.

Chicken Chopped Salad
Tossed with our signature ginger dressing 9

Chang’s Wedge
A twist on an old classic 6
Chicken 9 / Steak  11

Bikini Shrimp Salad
A delicious way to get beach-ready 10

Sichuan Flatbread
Just don’t call it a quesadilla
Chicken 7 / Steak 10

Beef Short Ribs with Pineapple Rice
A luau in a bowl – grass skirt optional 15

Sesame Crusted Ahi Tuna
Kissed by our grill, we serve this delicious ahi
with green tea soba noodles 16

Lemongrass Prawns with Garlic Noodles
Jumbo prawns infused with lemongrass 16

Asian Marinated New York Strip
Grilled 12 oz New York strip steak, thinly
sliced and served medium rare 22

Citrus Soy Wild Salmon
Our salmon comes straight from the
cold waters of our 49th state 18

I was struck by a couple of things in this composition.  First of all, there are several descriptions which I especially like.  “Just don’t call it a quesadilla” manages to say nothing about the actual item while giving you a clear expectation of what you should get.  “A luau in a bowl – grass skirt optional” is fun and draws a picture of a beach somewhere else …  “Our salmon comes straight from the cold waters of our 49th state” is reminiscent of a cross-word puzzle.  While the riddle might distract some people from the actual offering, I felt a triumphant surge of competence at recognizing that it was Alaska.  Perhaps not a terribly hard question, but never underestimate the power of making your customers feel smart.  And the most descriptive one that I like:  “Kissed by our grill, we serve this delicious ahi with green tea soba noodles”  Perhaps I’m just a sucker for the word ‘kissed,’ but I like that phrase a lot.

Now, the other descriptions occasionally use interesting words.  “Infused,” being the best one.  But for the most part, they are rather dry.  In comparison, which sounds better to eat?  The “Grilled 12 oz New york strip steak, thinly sliced and served medium rare” or the ahi I’ve already mentioned?  Two different authors, perhaps?

Imagery and bright, juicy words convey emotion and desire, right across paper.    Kudos to P.F. Chang’s for the picturesque language on this menu — but why go only halfway?  Maybe the steak is actually better than the ahi.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, September 16th, 2008 at 10:30 pm and is filed under Observations. You can leave a comment and follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.

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