Why don’t restaurants fix their bad menu translations?

4th September 2015

Bad menu translations are usually a source of hilarity when dining out, especially when abroad on holiday. While you usually can’t go wrong with a simple steak and green salad, one has to wonder what would have been served if you’d decided to be a little more adventurous and gone for the “Shegetta with smash meatsoy”, “Fatty cow in the United States in dad in sand”, or the “sixi roasted husband”!

Many of the examples seen around the world appear to suffer from the ‘Google Translate Syndrome’, as many Asian languages, for example, are simply too complex for machine translation to interpret with any degree of accuracy. However, bad menu translations are not limited to exotic Chinese dishes, as poor grammar can also be spotted in some English establishments as well – Died Coke, anyone?

Putting the amusement of it all to one side for a moment, it does raise the question: “Given the amount of time and money needed to open a restaurant, with the menu arguably being the most important thing a customer sees in regards to the food being offered, why do some owners seem unconcerned about the appalling translation describing some of their dishes?” Surely there must be someone they can turn to with some level of proficiency that can offer a better translation, or in the case of the UK eateries, why didn’t anyone take the time to proof read the menu properly before sending it to the printer!?!

So, why don’t restaurants fix their bad menu translations? Because, in reality, it has no effect on business whatsoever! There are many reasons why people choose to eat at a certain place: it could be a recommendation from friends, a review in a magazine or website, or it could simply be ‘the new place in town’ to try out. In some cases, it might be the only place in town that offers a particular cuisine. And while travelling abroad, the decision to eat in a particular restaurant is often made based on a combination of décor, ambience, locale, type of food on offer and how busy it is, i.e. does it appear popular, with a cursory glance at the menu to help gauge prices. It’s only when people sit down and study the menu in detail that typos and the aforementioned bad translations are spotted.

Once a customer has made the decision to eat somewhere, sat down and ordered their first drink, it’s highly unlikely that they will get up and leave due to the menu offering ‘garlick bred’. The reason for this is a type of confirmation bias, whereby once a person has made their decision, any negative factors that could have influenced that decision, discovered after the choice has been made, aren’t given the same weight as they would have been had they been learnt prior to the decision being finalised. To put it simply, once you’ve sat down, it will take more than the odd typo to make you leave!

However; translation for market research, and indeed all other types of business communication, works in the exact opposite way. Often, a proposal, project brief or, in the case of consumers, an article or advert will be the first thing a Client or potential customer sees in connection with making a decision as to whether or not they should use a particular service or product. In this instance, the quality of translation is very important, as small errors will be weighted with a far more negative bias prior to a choice being made.

As example, given the choice between:

“Client propsel” / “Reccomended Detergent By Washing Machine Markers Globally.”


“Client proposal” / “Recommended Detergent By Washing Machine Makers Globally.”

It would be logical to assume that people would choose to spend their money on the second of the two options, with all other factors being equal.

Therefore, when deciding on translation for a project, it is very important to understand at what point your Client / customer will be exposed to the text. As highlighted with the bad menu translations above, if errors are spotted after a decision has been made, or after the point of sale, you might be able to get away with a sincere apology, feelings of embarrassment and a hope that it won’t affect future business.

However, in many cases, the translated text is often the first thing your Client / customer will see, and the results of poor translation will have far more serious consequences – a Client will choose to work with a different company, a customer will choose a different product.

No matter where your translation appears, Foreign Tongues offers a range of translation services, including standard translation, proof-read translation and proof-reading of 3rd party translated documentation, to ensure the intended meaning of your source documentation is translated with absolute accuracy.

If you, or your Clients, are looking to have translation undertaken – contact us now for your free, no obligation, quote.

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