In a recently released book, “The Language of Food: A Linguist Reads the Menu” written by Stanford professor Dan Jurafsky, he and his students demystify restaurant menus with some interesting findings.  For a start, the more expensive the restaurant, the fancier the words.  “Difficult foreign words are in implicit signal of a high-educational status of the menu writer and, by extension, the customer,” he says. But he also found that expensive menus were shorter and more direct.

By contrast, the wordy menus of middle-priced restaurants were stuffed with adjectives (“fresh”, “rich”, “tender”), while positive but vague words such as “delicious” and “tasty” were used by cheaper restaurants.

How does this apply to spa menus?

We’ve certainly had our share of eye-rolls with some of the creative liberties spa menus have taken, sometimes requiring a degree in Sanskrit and Law and to see what one can claim and get away with.  Conversely, today’s spa goers don’t suffer fools gladly and will throw the book at you if you start spewing gobbly gook.  So here’s what we’ve observed having  written and reviewed hundreds of menus:

What’s In A Name

We can look at a menu and tell you instantly what the top sellers are just based on how they’re named and their location within a menu.  Names that are simple, explicit, diagnostic based (i.e, jet lag cure), and identifiers (athlete’s therapy, teen facial, etc) are easy to understand and therefore, easier to process.


Where a treatment is placed within a menu affects its popularity. We’ve found that the first 10-12 treatments listed tend to be the ones most requested. Why? Spa goers can’t be bothered perusing through a spa version of War & Peace.  So if you want to direct spa goers to your high ticket treatments, don’t bury them in the back.

Sense of Place:

Resort spas can get away with all that exotic jargon and cerebral references to an “escape” or an

“ancient tradition” . The opposite is true of city spas where that same spa goer who just came back from Bali will want copy that’s crisp, to the point, and communicates exactly what the treatment will solve. Why? It’s a case of mindset. While on holiday, we’re sensitized to words that enhance the setting and experience. At home, we want straightforward talk about solutions and results.


Women relate to words that describe the process or “journey”, while men respond to the destination – “clean skin”, “sleep”, “stress-free”.  Women will dwell on the specificity of each step within a treatment, a man just wants to be able to fall asleep.  (Hopefully,  not because of the spa menu.)

Still at a loss for words?

To decipher code words, here are some of the most overused terms and what they really mean:

Treatment = Therapy = Massage

Exotic = Indigenous = Local Ingredient

Renewal = Exfoliation = Scrub

Tradition = Ancient = Old

Journey = Ritual = Experience = A long treatment that starts with a foot bath

K.I.S.S. and Tell

When all else fails, the KISS rule always applies: Keep it simple, spas!