How Handwritten Type Can Prompt Healthy Eating

New research finds diners feel more positively about health-food restaurants if the menus use a handwritten typeface.
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New research reveals that a handwritten typeface can give customers at health-food restaurants a warm and fuzzy feeling, increasing their loyalty and raising the chances they will praise the restaurant on social media.

Do you love your local health-food restaurant? Are you convinced the food is particularly nutritious, and that the owner has a big heart?

You may be right. On the other hand, you may simply be responding to its secret ingredient: the typeface it chose for its menu.

New research reveals that a handwritten typeface can give customers at such establishments a warm and fuzzy feeling, increasing their loyalty and raising the chances they will praise the restaurant on social media.

"Customers are just subconsciously processing information, and they feel that human touch in the letters on the menu," lead author Stephanie Liu of the Ohio State University said in announcing the findings. "They feel the restaurant put more effort into the design of this menu, and they are getting this product to you with more care."

In the Journal of Business Research, Liu and her colleagues describe two studies, the first of which featured 185 American adults recruited online. They were asked to imagine themselves sitting down to a table at Rilo's Kitchen. Half were told the restaurant was health-conscious, and featured "locally grown, non-GMO, antibiotic-free ingredients." The others received no such information.

They then looked over the menu, which was printed in either the handwritten typeface DJB This Is Me or the much plainer Helvetica. Afterwards, they answered a series of questions designed to gauge their attitudes toward the establishment.

The researchers report that people exposed to the faux-handwritten menu liked the restaurant more, considered its food healthier, and were more likely to engage with it on social media. Importantly, these positive effects of the typeface were only found for the health-food restaurant.

A second study, featuring 191 adults, replicated those results. It further found that increased interest in sharing news of the restaurant on social media was higher for those who were told to imagine they were dining alone.

"Using handwritten typeface enhances the sense of human touch, and subsequently induces perceptions that love is symbolically embedded in the restaurant's offerings," Liu and her colleagues conclude. This positive feeling "spills over" into positive evaluations of the food.

It's important to emphasize that this effect was limited to restaurants that have healthiness as part of their brand; there's no indication it would work at, say, McDonald's. (It would be interesting to test whether this same dynamic applies to labels of store-bought food.)

These findings offer opportunity, but also cause for concern. An unscrupulous restaurant owner could make a meal with less-healthy (and less-expensive) ingredients, and use the menu typeface to suggest fallaciously that it's good for you.

On the other hand, at an honest restaurant, the bonding such a menu produces may prompt people to return to healthy dining establishments more often, leading to healthier diets overall. Given the obesity epidemic, that would surely be a good thing.

Marketing healthy food isn't easy; mechanical-looking menus make the job even harder. A salad looks less savory in sans serif.

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