A meal is not complete unless it is topped off with a sweet treat. Over time, desserts have become a food group of their own. For most, the idea of getting ice cream has become a normal activity rather than a weekend outing. With so many delicious options to pick from, we narrowed down our menu choices to ten restaurants around the world. Desserts have risen to fame in cities like Miami, New York, Chicago, Orlando thanks in part to social media. Through platforms like Facebook and Instagram we found restaurants that changed the dessert game. Taking into account that the dessert industry is mainly based on visuals, we broke down the descriptions that frame the visuals of desserts on these platforms to better understand what goes into attracting customers. Breaking down each segment gave us the opportunity to better comprehend how these menus are created.


Highlight:"Through platforms such as Facebook and Instagram we found restaurants that changed the dessert game."


01 WHAT WE ANALYZED

When pinpointing what specific elements we wanted to analyze, we decided to focus on the use of adjectives, semantics, and the overall creativity displayed by each restaurant. After dissecting each menu we found trends that flowed throughout most of the menus. With words, restaurants are able to create a mental image of what they offer. However, there is also an extensive use of symbols and images in menus that aide in making choices of what to order. The majority of these restaurants also center their descriptions, which lead us to believe they want to demonstrate balance. Unlike the menus for the normal day-to-day restaurants, dessert restaurants are more affordable in pricing. We noted that the more complex the food item, the higher the cost. In comparison to the simplicity of dishes, these establishments allow for the customer to make their own choices. Although the customer has the freedom to pick and choose what they want to put on their desserts, some establishments are known for their already elaborate creations, leading the consumers to stick to the basic menu options.





02 ADJECTIVES

Food is not only an experience we taste with our mouths, but one which leaves an imprint in our minds. Menus must be creative when using words to describe what they are selling to their customers. Daniel Jurafsky reiterates this in Reading the Menu when he asserts that food is a language (1). In the dessert world, words have the same impact as pictures. Throughout the analysis of our menus we found that most restaurants use over 10 pictures to list their food options. The word sweet is used extensively. We believe that the use of adjectives in dessert menus are key when convincing readers to give into an unhealthy choice. Words such as drizzled, creamy, delicious, rich, glazed and smooth trigger us to want to taste these desserts for ourselves. Through images we can recreate feelings.








03 SEMIOTICS

When analyzing our menus, we quickly realized how strategically semiotic materials are used to communicate to the viewer. O’Brien and Szeman state that “broadly speaking, representation involves the social production of meaning through sign systems. Signs are the fundamental units of communication”, meaning that the rhetoric of semiotics includes any visual element from a single letter in a word to a photograph. Our menus relied heavily on photographs, food graphics, colors, and font types.

Because we chose to focus on dessert menus that were popular among foodies on Instagram, it comes as no surprise that extensive use of photos and graphics are used in the menus. Of the twelve menus we analyzed, we found that there was an average of seventeen images per menu. The Milk Bar includes forty images. Some menus use actual photographs of the food, such as Mr. Bing’s Ice Cream Shop. Others, like THE LOOP, use graphics to symbolize the foods on the menu.

The colors most menus use are designed to complement the visuals. The colors also help to indicate the decadency of the food and formality of the restaurant. Better Than Sex uses golds, reds, and zooms in on photos to demonstrate that they offer rich tasting desserts and a luxurious dining experience.

Another way in which the menus communicate to the audience is through font types. Bolded words reflected something that the restaurant really wanted to draw your attention to, which is typically not the price. Very intricate fonts were used to signify a feeling of exclusivity and high class by Better Than Sex, while B Sweet used a very standard and casual text style to show it has a relaxed environment.

Milk Bar Menu VS THE LOOPS Menu

Milk Bar uses actual photographs of their foods on the menu, while THE LOOP uses graphics sybols. Though they are different, these image styles still give the reader a clear visual depiction of what they can order.



The chart below captures how many visuals/graphics were found on our menus. As you can see, Milk Bar uses the most (40 pictures), while Night Owl Cookies is an outlier, using 0.










Summary

Ultimately, we were surprised to see that most of the food descriptions in our dessert menus were as simple as they were. Throughout the menus, adjectives are rarely used. Sweet, drizzled, fresh, and creamy are the most-used adjectives. The descriptions were typically just a list of ingredients and flavors. This reflects the general nature of a dessert restaurant where you order quickly. When descriptive adjectives are used, they are very simple and common words. This is because (with the exception of Orlando’s Better Than Sex restaurant) most dessert menus are designed to appease to a broad age group.

Semiotics plays in an important role in all menus, but restaurants that rely on ambitious foodies on social media accounts as their main marketing technique semiotic theory is even more imperative. With the exception of one menu, photographs and graphics are heavily used in all the menus. With such visually stimulating and outrageous desserts, including images on the menus seems very natural. Every menu uses a variety of font types, font sizes, and colors to represent their food and atmosphere. Font styles are used to make it easier to recognize if a fancy or more casual dessert restaurant. Typically, the fonts were a “traditional fun." The heavy use of semiotic material in our dessert menus helps to clearly portray what your food options are.


Audience

In analyzing our menus, we found one reoccurring pattern: many of the menus have a social media account that further advertises their product. These social media accounts, such as Instagram, rely heavily on visual rhetoric to appeal to readers. Social media users are the target audience for these restaurants' marketing. Millennials who use social media are the primary audience for these restaurants. Consumers recognize the images from online accounts when visiting these restaurants in person, which is part of the reason why there are so many images displayed on the menus rather than words. Some restaurants, like Milkcraft, even included hashtags and social media handles on their menus, which speaks to a younger crowd.

The combination of semiotic materials like images and texts have a type of appeal that stands out instantly to a viewer. Visuals are important for capturing a millennial audience. They also are universally recognizable, appealing to a much larger audience than just the niche of millennial social media users. The use of semiotic material in these menus is a tactical use of rhetoric that offer relatability through social identity, giving someone passing by a reason to walk in and take a closer look.

Identity

Food is a vehicle for expressing culture. Our food identities are often of an expression of our cultural identities as well. We found collectively that the audiences who would regularly dine at these pop culture dessert restaurants are those who seek popularity and financial stability. Most of the menus are pricey for desserts, and many of the menus don’t display prices because the visuals and hashtags online are what attract customers.

O’Brien and Szeman state “Our choices define and are defined by the social categories within which we want to situate ourselves and in we are already situated” (163). We choose to associate ourselves with things that define who we are and our culture. In analyzing the identities of the audiences who frequent these restaurants, we decided that people who dine in these overly priced lavish dessert places want to be perceived as having wealth but are not necessarily economically comfortable.

Many menus use props for people to hold or pose with. Customers can see how alluring the food looks and may want to post about it on their social media pages. In our data, word count was very low but visual elements were always high. Restaurants like The Loop use graphics and social media to advertise to a specific group. The menus are constantly trying to appeal to millennials with technology and media.


In viewing these menus, one of the primary things that has been apparent is the purposeful use of genre to incorporate style and creativity into the dessert menus. Each menu had a specified audience that it was trying to reach, using a variety of different themes to gauge unique interests, like Game of Thrones, sexual desires, cute puppies or your favorite ice crème—I mean, who could resist that? And for the most part, each menu appealed to the consumer visually first. Pinterest, Instagram, and Twitter were the genres used to target these consumers. With the advent of social media, foodie dessert restaurants have begun to circumvent themselves into the mainstream food choices of millennials thanks to hashtag culture.

For example, when we were looking on Instagram for a dessert restaurant, we simply put “foodie desserts” in the search bar and thousands of pictures and links came up like “Better Than Sex Orlando." Thanks to social media and hash-tagging, we could get a feel for the decorum, theme, and unique culture attached to the food. This was a consistent trend we saw throughout our observation of the dessert restaurants. On Instagram there is a "suggested pages" tab where we began to link to the other foodie desserts. Connectivity of desserts in this genre made it easy to understand and analyze these pages. And social media was the forum that enabled us, as a group, to locate such dessert menus.

The overwhelming trends of the dessert menus connected with what writer Michael Pollan terms “food faddism” in Zoltan's book Food Fads. Zoltan talks about how tradition and abundance impact security for consumers, but thanks to social media, we think, the need for that was exposed in analyzing the menus. These menus are all desserts that present dessert uniquely, mixing with the social media era to create a new tradition in luxurious dining. But one security that remained consistent was health. Eight of the 13 menus had some mention of a healthy option in their selections of dessert. The ideas of a gluten free or low-calorie option is one of the most consistent staples of security in American food these days. If foodie places continue to mix a little of the old with the new, then foodie types will become more of the norm.

Lastly, the adjectives that were used to chart trends in the menus were based off other menus that the group chose to analyze. But even the descriptors found in these menus were genre specific, meaning they were harder to chart but easier to group. As we said before, some menus use themes like the hit HBO show Game of Thrones while others use combinations of cereal and droughts for visual appeal. But all these menus use an enticing visual element that went passed the normal description of food items. For example, the Better Than Sex restaurant uses visuals and metaphorical statements, like “Money Shot," "Klimax," and "Sex Appeal," to create unique imagery to make the dessert stand out. If the visuals failed to stand out, then the imagery established through metaphors did.

Capitalism

Works Cited

Jurafsky, Dan. The Language of Food: A Linguist Reads the Menu. , 2014. Print.

O'Brien, Susie, and Imre Szeman.Popular Culture: User's Guide. 2nd ed., Nelson, 2010.

Zoltan, Melanie Barton. "Food Fads." Food: In Context, edited by Brenda Wilmoth Lerner and K. Lee Lerner, Gale Cengage, 2011, pp. 326-29.

Author Bio

Created in ENC 3375, Corey Fleming, Pamela Gonzalez, Meneida Bailey, and Chris David collaboratively put together the infographic “What’s For Dessert.” Corey Fleming is majoring in Writing and Rhetoric and minoring in Business, with interest in graphic design. Pamela Gonzalez, currently a Humans Communications major, also has a previous degree in Fashion marketing. Meneida Bailey is majoring in Broadcast Journalism and minoring in Spanish while Journalism major Christopher Davis currently works in radio and broadcasting.