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Food & Beverage and Hospitality Translation Tips

In this blog I will focus on perhaps the most common localization service in the hospitality and food and beverage (F&B) industries: menu translation. Many potential clients expect that menus will be one of the easiest translation services to accomplish. In reality, menu translation can be one of the most problematic or complex translation projects within the industry.

A language translation services company with experience in F&B and hospitality can be of great assistance in this type of project. But, there are no “fool proof” best practices that will guarantee optimal language translation of food and beverage menus. Many factors come into play, including how many languages are spoken in a particular target locale, and is that locale addressing the needs of visitors from another part of the world. Research on the needs of patrons from your key target markets is essential to providing full service and the maximum sense of “welcome” possible.

Service Localization: An Emerging Trend

Before addressing the specifics of menu translation, let’s take a look at some dynamic trends affecting menu translation and other F&B and hospitality collateral. For years, Quick Service Restaurants (or QSRs) have modified their menus to cater to local palates and the demands of their overseas franchisees. McDonald’s for example, has used lamb rather than beef in its burgers in India because Hindu traditions forbid consuming beef. Subway created a menu for the Chinese market which included the Roasted Duck Sub sandwich.

This trend is expanding into the luxury travel segment and it is being taken to the next level by offering the comforts of home to guests from foreign locales. Hilton Hotels & Resorts and Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide offer customized hospitality programs for their Chinese guests. As a part of this specialized service, they offer Chinese language marketing collateral, in-room tea kettles, Chinese TV broadcasting, and dishes like congee on their menus. They also staff native Chinese speakers at their front desks.

Middle East travelers have also become a key growth market for many international hoteliers. Thailand-based luxury hotel group, Dusit International, responded to record numbers of guests from the Middle East by redesigning their menus to offer more Halal items. They introduced Arabic TV channels, provided prayer mats and have information readily available on nearby mosques for their Muslim guests. Their long-term sales strategy is to increase the use of Arabic language content across all marketing channels, including websites.

The phrase service localization is used to describe this trend of providing food and services appropriate to the origin of key patrons or tourists. Just as GPI adapts a document or website to a particular language or culture through translation, restaurants and hotels are localizing the products and services that are native to their key growth markets. Leading hospitality groups are not only translating their F&B menus, they are customizing dishes and other services, catering to the tastes and comfort of these travelers.

Menu Translation

Hotel restaurants are more eclectic than ever, offering exotic dishes and ingredients. A perfect example, and one of my favorites, is Pad Thai, a traditional Thai noodle dish. How does a restaurant or F&B franchise in the Middle East handle this native Thai dish in a Russian or Arabic menu translation?  The name alone can be tricky, but so can the ingredients, if they are not common to the restaurant’s locale.

Here are some general tips:

  1. Transliteration versus Translation: Many dishes are well known in the target markets by their common names. In such cases, translation is not required, and it could actually cause more confusion. For menus in Arabic, Chinese, Japanese or Russian, transliteration of the name of the dish may be the best option. Transliteration is the process of using the phonetic sounds of the source word in the target language. Translation uses the equivalent word and meaning in the target language. Transliteration is often used for brand names and words that are non-native to the language, like crème fraiche, beurre blanc, or Worcestershire sauce.
  2. Keep it simple and leave it alone! Sometimes the best approach is to leave the entrée in its native language and provide an appealing description of the ingredients or preparation method in the target language. I recently managed a menu translation project that included a “Sauce Jacqueline”. The restaurant decided to use the French sauce name, but included a translated description of the sauce’s ingredients. A reduction with carrots and ginger; it sounded fantastic!
  3. Actual names of ingredients may be rare or non-existent in the target locale. In such cases, official terminology may be absent and terms may have to be “invented” to describe what’s actually on the menu. But be careful. Your goal is to entice, not to confuse or disgust. I recently came across an Arabic menu translation that used “brains” for “sweetbreads”. If I had the choice of brains, or something else, I personally would choose the “something else”.
  4. For casual dining, or QSRs, within the hotel, numbered or picture menus may be helpful in bridging the communication gap between your guests and your servers. Alternatively, you may want to have a bilingual menu with English and the target language. GPI can advise you on a layout that best accommodates bi-directional text, like Arabic and Hebrew, or double-byte characters, like Chinese.
  5. In certain markets you must not forget ingredient labeling on the menus for allergies, religious purposes, or restrictive diets.
  6. Don’t try to over simplify. Your menu is your guests’ first taste of what’s to come. It’s another marketing tool to sell your restaurant.


Menu translation may seem straightforward, but it often involves factors that can complicate the process. You must always think of your targeted audience when creating multilingual versions of your menus. Some items may not be easy to translate and you will have to consider options like transliteration or only translating parts of the text. This blog covered tips for helping you create accurate, appealing versions of your menus.