Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Adjectives in restaurant menus

A friend of mine once suggested the rule of thumb that the number of adjectives in a restaurant's menu is inversely proportional to the quality of the food. Calling something "savory" is presumably compensating for the fact that it came out of a can.

I was reminded of this today when I ran across (via Slashdot) this LA Times article about using statistical techniques to try to predict the future success of Sundance films based on their description in the Sundance film guide and on the IMDB record for the film. They get seemingly relatively good results, but one of the funny and interesting parts is their list of positive and negatively predicting words in the description. Read the original article to see the lists, but the interpretation was interesting:
"A lot of adjectives, like 'riveting' ... that's a bad indication," Prince said. "Whereas words that are tangible tend to be pretty good things."
So, is this true at New York City restaurants? Well, I don't have the time to write a web-crawler that tries to correlate the adjectives and ratings on menupages.com, but here's the Meat selection at the extravagant Alain Ducasse:

Squab breast radish, turnip, daikon cooked/ raw, light jus
Medallions of Millbrook venison roasted fall vegetables, "poivrade"' sauce
Lamb rack "au sautoir" condiment of dried fruit and piquillos, creamy quinoa
Aged Ribeye of Black Angus shallots, Boston bibb lettuce, panisses, sabayon
Blue foot chicken crisp and tender endives, sabayon (for two people)

I estimate a roughly 2:1 ration of nouns to adjectives. Yep, I'll eat there... (As long as I don't have to foot the bill...)

I also did a Google search for "restaurant menu adjectives". No notes about this rule of thumb, but lots of references to middle-school lesson plans. Apparently, middle school teachers think that it's a good thing to teach middle schoolers about adjectives by letting them "improve" menus by adding adjectives. Great! That'll mean they'll be eating cafeteria lunches like "tantalizing Salisbury steak with vibrant mashed potatoes" and "crisp carrot slices with transparent orange jello"! Mm, lookin' forward to that...

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