The menu at your favorite healthy restaurant might be trying to tell you something ― and it’s not just the daily specials.
A 2019 Ohio State University and Pennsylvania State University study that will be published in the Journal of Business Research found that diners eating in a health-focused restaurant are more likely to associate that restaurant with healthiness if the menu features a font that is handwritten, or appears to be.
According to the study, these menus also make you more likely to post photos of your food on social media.
Stephanie Liu, lead author of the study, explained to HuffPost that as more people are focused on “eating clean,” she and her colleagues were interested in offering restaurants, well, a hand.
“Many restaurants are branding or rebranding themselves as healthy, but they might not know how to do it effectively,” Liu told HuffPost. “We wanted to help these restaurants by offering a creative marketing strategy that does not necessarily increase cost — you just need to print your menu in a different font that appears handwritten.”
The study, conducted with 185 people ages 20-84, set out to determine if a “handwritten” menu can better convey love or evoke more of a human touch. Participants were split up into four groups and asked to imagine they were eating in a made-up restaurant called Rilo’s Kitchen.
According to the study, two groups were presented with the following statement explaining that the eatery was health-conscious: “Its entire menu is based on locally-grown, non-GMO, antibiotic-free ingredients and it is committed to sustainability.”
Of those participants, one group was given a menu with a handwritten font, while the other group received menus that did not appear handwritten. The researchers found that participants who received handwritten menus expressed more favorable attitudes toward the menu, perceived the food to be healthier and engaged with it on social media at a higher rate.
However, these differences were only apparent when the restaurant was described as “healthy.” The different menu fonts didn’t have any perceivable effect on the two groups that were not informed of the restaurant’s health focus.
According to Liu, that’s a result of our attitudes toward fast food or regular restaurants in general. “At regular restaurants or with fast food, the typeface doesn’t matter as much because you’re not expecting that human touch or extra effort,” Liu told MarketWatch.
“We don’t pursue the optics of healthy but definitely fresh and handmade,” he told HuffPost. “A lot of American food in general is unhealthy so I think handmade often correlates to healthy, but the handmade part of it is more important for us to convey.”
Rigato’s girlfriend Sam Stanisz, a sous chef at the restaurant, handwrites the menu daily, and Rigato says it’s become engrained into the restaurant’s overall aesthetic and vibe. “It’s an incredibly human touch, like when someone sends a handwritten thank you note,” he said.
But not everyone is picking up what the study is writing down.
Basing notions about a restaurant on the menu alone is “oversimplifying” what goes into branding a restaurant as health-focused, Douglas Riccardi, owner of New York City-based restaurant branding agency Memo Productions and Type Director’s Club board member, told HuffPost. He noted that in general, restaurants are now doing a lot more to send out a healthy message.
“The entire messaging in restaurants has become much more transparent about how ingredients are sourced, how the food is prepared, even calorie counts,” he said. “People are just more open now and there’s less of a desire to hide things under the rug.”
Still, it’s an interesting idea to keep in mind the next time you order off a menu ― handwritten or not.