Do Handwritten Menus Make Us Think Food Is Healthier?

The author of a new study says typefaces that mimic handwriting connote 'love.'

Menu & Cutlery on A Restaurant Table

Photo by: Darren Baker ©Photograph Darren Baker

Darren Baker, Photograph Darren Baker

Most of us probably don’t think too much about the looks of the menus of the restaurants we eat at. We’re too busy deciding what we want to eat (and perhaps how much we’re willing to pay for it). But new research suggests a detail as frequently overlooked as the font in which the menus are printed may affect our emotions, judgments and even our behavior.

If a restaurant menu uses a typeface that mimics handwriting, diners are more likely to conclude that the items listed on it are healthier — better for them, using higher quality ingredients and made with greater care — according to a new study published in the Journal of Business Research.

“The handwritten typeface conveys love … that sense of human touch,” study co-author Stephanie Liu, an assistant professor of hospitality management at The Ohio State University, said in a university release. “It feels to the customer like there is more heart, more effort, and more love in it, even though it doesn’t cost any more money.”

The effect, however, holds only for restaurants already perceived as healthy.

“This wouldn’t apply to a fast-food brand that sells low-quality hamburgers,” Liu said.

Liu and her fellow researchers conducted two experiments using 185 participants, according to In the first, researchers asked participants, ages 20 to 84, to pretend they were eating in a fictional restaurant called “Rilo’s Kitchen” that served foods featuring ingredients that were locally grown, non-GMO and free of antibiotics. Then half of them were handed menus a font that appeared machine-produced (Helvetica) and half in a font that mimics handwriting (DJB This is Me).

Afterward, both groups were asked a series of questions – and those who were given the handwritten menu tended to believe the food was healthier and said they were more like to take to social media to post about it. The results did not hold in the second experiment, in which participants were not told that the restaurant served fresh, local, seasonal dishes.

Liu’s theory is that the intrinsic organic quality of handwriting – with its irregularly written letters and words – and implicit implication of a personal touch subconsciously sends a message of warmth, effort and care. That extra effort something that we expect and value from a healthy restaurant, she suggests, but not so much a regular or fast food eatery.

Especially in the case of solo diners, that may help forge a sense of connection and prompt them to return.

The research was underwritten by the Marriott Foundation – so you may want to be on the lookout for handwritten fonts at your next hotel breakfast.

Photo: iStock

Related Links:

Next Up

Star in Training

The Next Food Network Star winner Aarti Sequeira takes us through the making of her new show, Aarti Party.

When I Think of Pride, I Think of Brunch

Here's why we wine and dine with our chosen family — and ten tips for throwing the perfect brunch at home.

When I Want to Make Dinner Easier, I Think "Unstuffed"

From stuffed cabbage to stuffed grape leaves, to stuffed eggplant and especially stuffed peppers, many cuisines have unique stuffed vegetable dishes, and Middle Eastern cuisine is no exception. But here’s how to get all that comforting flavor without the work of all that stuffing — and my Seven-Spice Unstuffed Peppers are a great place to start.

7 Foods We’d Never Think To Cover in Chocolate

From chocolate-covered whole jalapenos to pork rolls, these treats are definitely a little out there.

How to Make Orange Food Coloring

Whether you want to start with natural ingredients or ready-made dye, follow our step-by-step guide.

How to Make Black Food Coloring

For Halloween baking szn and beyond.

What Makes a Heart-Healthy Food?

There’s a lot more to heart health than just cutting out junk food.

When I Think of New Year's Gatherings in the Lowcountry, I Think of Gizzard Perloo

Celebrating Watch Night with my church community is one of the most meaningful nights of the year — and the food takes center stage.

The Key Food Moments You May Have Missed in The Last of Us

Everyone picked up on the cookies and cake, right?

What's New