20 Terms For Selling (I Mean Writing) Recipes

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Are his wares "Perfect for any occasion?"

Yes, recipe writers have to make readers want to rush into the kitchen. And readers need convincing. But must we sell, sell, sell?

I found these 20 terms below in a cookbook I edited recently.

What’s wrong with them? They’re generic. They’re overused. And I feel like I’m getting a sales pitch.

I put my least favorite term (no, not delicious) first. But “Perfect for any occasion” is delicious’s equivalent in value and vagueness. What exactly does it mean? Perfect for a funeral and your kid’s lunchbox? For a wedding or an after-school snack?

I bet the guy in the photo would use this term, if he thought it would work. It’s his job to snow you. But is it your job to snow readers?

Here’s my list of 20 tired sales pitches:

  1. Perfect for any occasion
  2. Minimum of time and effort
  3. You’ll rely on these recipes day in and day out
  4. Amazingly quick and easy to prepare
  5. Packed with flavor
  6. They taste like they took all day to make
  7. Will turn heads and wake up taste buds at your next gathering
  8. One taste and the delicious secret will be out
  9. Takes only minutes to prepare
  10. Easy and versatile
  11. Delicious and elegant
  12. Ideal for busy weeknights
  13. Great company fare
  14. For a satisfying meal anytime
  15. A delicious meal in minutes
  16. Guaranteed to get rave reviews and recipe requests
  17. Looks more time-consuming than it is
  18. Will satisfy any sweet tooth
  19. All the luscious flavor in a fraction of the time
  20. An elegant way to finish a meal.

Got more to add to this list? Or have you decided, after reading my 20 terms, that this cookbook sounds appealing?

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Photo from Flickr Creative Commons


  1. says

    Yeah, those are pretty tired phrases. However, I must admit that I am guilty of using similarly uninspiring lines from time to time. I’m trying to be more aware about what I write, though, so I can make improvements. Articles like this one helps, so thanks for that.

    • diannejacob says

      You are most welcome. They’re not so bad when you take them individually. It’s the steady diet that loses its appeal.

  2. says

    Loved your commentary on “perfect for any occasion”! Oddly, I would actually appreciate some of these (such as, “ideal for busy weeknights”–always good to know you can whip something up fairly quickly and easily). Photo is funny, too (and did you snap it yourself? I only ask because there’s no attribution supplied. . . .). 😉

    • diannejacob says

      I know. I’m busy too and I like the idea of a dish that’s quick and easy on a weeknight. Maybe it was the steady diet of all these terms that irritated me.

      The photo attribution appears at the bottom of the post.

    • diannejacob says

      Ha. I don’t know that they’re offending if you use them occasionally. Here she used too many!

  3. says

    I really liked your take on “perfect for any occasion”. :)
    But where do we go for new phrases to describe cooking procedures, food and flavours once we have used these and others “too many times”?

  4. says

    I’m in the final edit of my cookbook, and I’m off to scan for your offending phrases!
    I know that I’m also guilty of of a few cliches that I could add to that list:
    “takes it to the next level”
    “blows it out of the water!”
    (Hi! First time commenter, but long time reader…)

  5. says

    That is an interesting point about “perfect for every occasion,” and while I do agree that some of the phrases sound vague and somewhat useless, I think some of them are helpful. I sure hope Alana isn’t literally editing out all of those phrases!

    Things that tell me that it is quick and good for week nights, will be a hit for entertaining, and that the recipe isn’t going to take as much time as it appears (some recipes look ominous with long ingredient lists or very detailed instructions so I pass them up – when in reality, they are quite simple and quick), are what I consider good informational intros as a cookbook reader!

    I see your comment to Ricki, and if they were all repeated many times, that could get annoying. In that case, I think they should simply include prep and cook times or icons that tell you if the recipe is “quick and easy,” “good for entertaining,” etc.

    • says

      Okay, well I’m not taking them all out…
      But I’ve been thinking about this post this morning, and while I think some of these phrases can be helpful, it’s when I use them (or others like them) as fallback when I have little else to say about the recipe that gets me into trouble. This doesn’t seem to be such an issue when I’m writing on my blog and talking about 1 recipe at a time, but in a book of 100 recipes, the challenge increases.

      • diannejacob says

        Yes, that’s true. But one of the things that’s wrong with this list is that it’s generic. Would it help to write about the actual dish in the headnote, how it looks or how it tastes, whether there’s a story tied to it, etc.?

        And congrats on writing your 100 recipe cookbook, Alana.

        • says

          Yes, I think it absolutely helps to keep a headnote tied to the recipe. But these phrases are recognizable and familiar when it comes to selling a recipe, and in my case they creep in when I’m not quite sure how to say, “Make this! You’ll love it!” in any other way. My cookbook is a bit non-traditional, and it has a lot of stories intermingled with the recipes, but still I find myself trying to slip in these cliched phrases- maybe it’s from reading cookbooks all my life?

          (and thank you for your congrats, and for your help. This blog has been so helpful every step of the way.)

          • diannejacob says

            Okay. How about this. Remember the rule about show not tell? Writing some version of “make this, you’ll love it” is “tell.” Whereas you could “show” the reader why they should make it and love it. Why do you love it? What is it about the smell, the cooking process, the people who love it most in your family, etc. Or reveal something interesting about the spices or a technique you use.

    • diannejacob says

      You are right that in and of themselves, many of these are useful. I guess it was the sheer volume that got to me, and the idea that we always have to sell it. Now, this author got a book deal and this was her finished manuscript, and obviously her cookbook is for quick and easy recipes. So I’m not sure how much it bears repeating. I like your suggestion for icons.

    • diannejacob says

      No no, don’t take me so literally. It was about saying all these things all the time, and thinking that there is only one way to sell. Maybe I should have explored that more. Ex. selling by writing evocatively about a dish or a place.

  6. says

    My favorite: “For a complete meal, serve with crusty bread and a big, green salad.”

    I never really understood the phrase, “Perfect for entertaining.” Entertaining whom? My mother-in-law? My friend Jill? My husband’s boss? My son’s soccer team?

    I say we scrap all those phrases and just go with, “Excellent for eating.”

    • diannejacob says

      I think I put that one in my book as a term that I was sick of seeing, and it was seven years ago when I first said so.

      Perfect for entertaining is about as good as perfect for any occasion, don’t you think?

      The point is that good writing is specific vs. general. If you wrote a headnote for your favorite thing to take to your son’s soccer team and why, that would make for better reading. I don’t know why I’m telling you this. You already know.

      • says

        I knew I got that pet peeve from somewhere. Now you’ve reminded me that I got it from you!

        And I’m glad you gave a follow-up to my soccer team example, because you’re right: if you offer more specifics, it does become a more meaningful suggestion.

  7. says

    Someone I admire who recently turned out a stunning cookbook, The Commonsense Kitchen, once told me how much he loved the recipe writing process. In his book, you’ll see how his distinct voice permeates the entire recipe. It’s approachable, real and doesn’t feel as if you’re being “sold”. I’m trying to incorporate more of that authenticity into my own recipe writing. It just makes sense.

    On a side note, my recipes typically fall in to the healthy genre, so there are times I feel I need to use “packed with flavor” (or some variation of) so people give it a chance. Any advice on a better term to use in this case?

    • diannejacob says

      Yes, exactly, that is my point, that there are many ways to tempt readers, not just with a hard sell. He does it through voice.

      Re “packed with flavor,” go for specific language. Write about what you like about the dish, ex. the bright notes of lemon and lime, or the soft heat of a jalapeno.

  8. says

    Maybe your writer should group her recipes into sections? That way the offending phrase is used once and an intriguing headnote will create interest in the indivdual recipes. Just a thought.

    • diannejacob says

      Well, the book is divided into standard chapters, so I’m not sure how else to organize it. Maybe there should be a way to go through a whole cookbook using “find and replace” in Word to strike out phrases used too often.

  9. says

    HaHa. I laughed when I read your list. I do like “easy and versatile” once in a while, but all the other ones have the opposite effect on me. I hate overselling. The picture really does it for me, when it comes to spontaneous cooking/baking. If that is good and the instructions are not 2 pages long, then I guarantee, I will make the recipe within a day. All the vague lines to push the recipes down my throat, well it is just not happening. No matter how perfect for whatever the occasion.

  10. says

    I really can’t see the point of using such cliched sales pitches with recipes. I’m pretty sure they just wash over most readers leaving no impact at all – I know I take no notice of them. What is far more likely to leave an impression on me is a more personalised note or remark citing the author’s own experience of the dish, giving me something to directly relate to.

  11. says

    The thing that sells a recipe to me is a great picture and the essay I read before it. That’s the only thing that will get me to make it.
    Oh, that and watching someone make it on TV. I’m a sucker for that.

    The worst one on that list in my opinion is the “delicious meal in minutes” because there’s no way that’s true, unless it’s something like cheese and bread and roasted vegetables. The phrase reminds me of the microwave cookbook I got as a wedding gift.

    • diannejacob says

      So you like a story, Mariko. I do too, most of the time. Yes, the possibilities of a delicious meal in minutes are rather remote, I agree. I guess if you have amazing ingredients that don’t take much work, it’s possible.

  12. says

    I’m guilty of..
    11. Easy & Chic: Pressure Cooker Creme Caramel
    17. It takes less time to cook than for you to read my description of this recipe.

    Well, and I purposely named a recipe to sound really “trashy” – I sure hope it didn’t go straight to the SPAM box of my readers:

    ” Naked, Steamy Pressure Cooked Carrot Flowers”

    Like Elizabeth, I just used the phrase “sneak them [whole grains] into your family’s diet” phrase in an article that will be published tomorrow – gonna see if I can change it. Sounds really bit cliche’ right about now!.



    P.S. Dianne, I subscribed to your newsletter, but when I look at your previous newsletters in PDF format (http://www.diannej.com/Newsletter.shtml). I can’t click on the links. I was really looking forward to seeing where the “Denise Vivaldo fesses up” link took me!!

    • diannejacob says

      Laura, at least you’re being creative. Those don’t sound so bad to me.

      Re the newsletter, you have a good point that you can’t click on the PDFs. I will have to look into that. Re Denise’s post, she took it down. Something about a threatened lawsuit.

  13. says

    As usual, you sum up my sentiments exactly (wait, that’s a tired cliche, too)
    Anyway, you left out the one that makes me cringe:

    Serve with a green salad and crusty bread

  14. says

    What a comprehensive list. I know I too am definitely guilty of using some of these, especially when it’s late and I just want to get a post out. Thanks for the reminder to be more creative and that it’s not simply good enough to come up with a stellar recipe, you also have to think about how you sell it.

  15. says

    Sometimes I find it really hard to come up with the header notes in a recipe. A friend of mine came up with “It’s just yummy”, and I worked that into the recipe. It is just difficult to be continually creative at times with clever phrases when it comes to a recipe.

      • says

        I changed format, from Joomla to a blog, so basically everything needed header notes. Writing header notes for 100’s of posts at a time is a daunting task. It’s easier to write one recipe at a time, but 100’s no, not easy at all.

  16. says

    Ha Ha Ha this post had me laughing out loud and then scratching my head wondering how many of these I have used. I do try and avoid these “explain nothing” phrases when I can except maybe where there is a more detailed explanation along with it. It is funny that these twenty can really be divided into 3 groups: taste: delicious (totally subjective), preparation: easy (for whom?) and versatility (you said it best!). You get to the point perfectly! Do I thank you again for a super post that gets us all thinking?

    • diannejacob says

      It’s just when you see it in a group that it hits you — too much! I’m sure you’re not a big offender, Jamie.

  17. says

    Once again, Dianne, one of your blog posts (this one) stuck with me and made me rethink it all. When you mention “selling” the recipe with these words of introduction and assurance, I began to look at which of my cookbooks I love and why I will select one or another recipe to try. I think the main problem with the above quotes is that they each imply something about ME (the reader/cook) as in I should find this delicious or want to use it for any occasion or I should find it a snap to make, which can not only sound presumptious but may simply turn out to be wrong (as you pointed out). I notice that what works for me, “sells” a recipe as you so astutely say, is when the author talks about the recipe in relationship to him or herself: why the author loves the recipe not why I should or will love the recipe. I find that Nigella Lawson and Giuliano Hazan both have this way of introducing a recipe and it turns me on!

    • diannejacob says

      Exactly, Jamie. I suppose this writer was somewhat justified because she was writing one of those “quick and easy” cookbooks, but even so, I like being pulled into a recipe based on why the author loves it.

  18. says

    I think this is applicable not just to writing recipes, but writing anything about food in general. Especially reviews. While I’m not a food blogger, I am admittedly guilty of using so much clichés in posts about food. I don’t really want to, but sometimes when you get lazy you just stop thinking. However, I’ve seen other people resort to these so many times. Bad enough they do it in just about every post. How about peppering each post with more than one of these babies? :(

    • diannejacob says

      Ouch, that would be hard to read, Kat. The thing is, people read published things like this and then they think they’re supposed to do it.

      • says

        It makes for a very bad copy, doesn’t it? Personally, I think posts and articles that make use of these clichés sound too much like a PR piece. Especially when a lot of newbie food writers use the same terms, it does sound like it’s coming from just once source.

        I also realized it applies to travel writing, or any kind of writing that’s descriptive.

        • diannejacob says

          You’d think so, but the woman who wrote these terms got a book deal, and I’m pretty sure they did not come out of the manuscript.