There are many distinctions to be made between high end restaurant and cheaper eateries but one of the easiest ways to tell the difference is to see if there are pictures on the menu or not.

Posh establishments tend not to embellish their menus with images of the fancy food on offer, while high street chains and cheap cafes will tend to advertise their wares visually.

It turns out there's a very good reason for this, researchers from Durham University have discovered - and it's because images will put us off unless promoting a very simple dish.

The study by Durham University Business School found that if the name of a menu item is straightforward, such as 'burger and chips,' a picture next to it will make a diner more likely to buy the dish.

But if a meal has an ambiguous or complicated name, such as 'Midnight Madness Cake' to describe a simple chocolate cake, pictures can have the opposite effect and put diners off the meal, the study found.

Diners would expect something like this Midnight Madness Cake, but most times they won't. PICTURE: Pixabay

Having a picture next to a menu item that doesn't reveal much about the dish could make the diner feel disappointed if the description doesn't live up to what the meal actually looks like, the findings revealed.

It goes some way to explain why top restaurants, which often feature dishes with vague descriptions or obscure ingredients, hardly ever have pictures on the menu.

The findings also confirm why many high street chains, diners and cafes have pictures on the menu as their dishes tend to be simpler and more familiar to a larger audience.

The study of 671 people, conducted by assistant professor in marketing at Durham University Business School, Dr Yuansi Hou, explored how restaurant menus can provoke very different reactions from customers.

She also found that the use of descriptive words, such as a 'tender' chicken salad, is a growing trend restaurants use to boost sales.

But as Dr Hou's research uncovered, accompanying such a dish with an image is a risk as the customer will judge if the dish is really 'tender' based on that picture.  

Dr Hou explained how restaurants can use images on menus effectively.

She said: 'Our research revealed that if a restaurant wants to make use of imagery and visual prompts on their menu, this needs to be combined with commonly used and "accurate" food names to increase marketing power.

'While it may seem a basic approach, photos can act as a positive reinforcement for customers who have made a visual connection that reflects the name of that dish.

'However, pairing extravagant food names with pictures that are too far from reality have the opposite effect and will be a turn off for customers.

'So, while you may think you know what you want to choose, the next time you ponder over a restaurant menu, there is likely to be a very calculated internal response before you give your order to the waiter.'