Restaurants are some of the trickiest businesses to operate, and it’s not uncommon for them to go out of business in a year or so. It’s the reason why many restaurant managers are using devious ways of making more profits, and part of that is by designing a menu specifically crafted to get the restaurant patron to spend more money. It’s no longer enough that a menu is informative and easy to read. With the right design, it can also be an effective tool to manipulate you into ordering more.
Here are some of the tricks that can be found on restaurant menus:
- Flowery descriptions. Cornell University researchers have found that describing a menu item for sale with flowery words makes them more popular and more appealing to potential customers. In fact, researchers from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have discovered that descriptive menu labels increased sales by 27%.
This is why meat products are often described as “tender and juicy”, sauces are “tangy and delicious”, cakes are “rich and creamy”, and you always have a “secret blend” of seasonings.
- Familial terms. Customers tend to favor food items made by relatives, and there’s a hint of nostalgia going on when a menu item is labeled as something made by family members like Grandma, Mom, Aunt Susie, or Uncle Jack. So Grandma’s homemade cookies are much more appealing than just cookies, and of course they all taste better if they’re just like what Mom used to make.
- Visual highlights. Some menu items naturally draw your attention because of their design. The food item may have an accompanying photo, which increase sales for that item by as much as 30%. Other visual tricks include using words printed in bold or different colors, special fonts, or placed in a box in the menu.
- Expensive decoy dishes. Sometimes the menu will feature an exorbitantly priced dish or wine that catches your attention. Of course you won’t order it, but its purpose is to make all the other items in the menu look more reasonably priced. You end up feeling like you’ve had a bargain.
- The absence of dollar signs. On many menus these days, you see a dish marked with “10” instead of “$10” or “ten dollars”. This is to avoid reminding you that you’re spending money, and the idea of paying conjures negative feelings that may discourage you from ordering a lot. Researchers from the Cornell University School of Hotel Administration discovered that restaurants guests spent way more when their menus didn’t have any dollar signs at all.
- “Nested” pricing. In the days before modern typesetting, the menu featured a dotted line leading from the menu item to the price. Nowadays, this is a practice that’s avoided by many restaurants because patrons often just scan the prices on the right side and then pick the dishes they can afford.
With “nested” pricing, the prices for the dishes are no longer aligned so perfectly. Instead, they’re discreetly listed in the same font and size as the menu dish description, so your eyes don’t track the prices as easily. You’ll also have to go through the descriptions of the meal first, which can distract you from your price hunting.
- Ethnic terms for authenticity. This is a very well-known tactic in Italian restaurants. The menu doesn’t just list spaghetti—they’re offering “tagliatelle” which sounds much more authentic, doesn’t it? But actually, tagliatelle is just the word Italians use for noodles.
- Brand names and places. Obviously, when a sauce isn’t just plain BBQ but a “Jack Daniels” BBQ sauce instead, it seems a much better deal. And a wine from California will taste better in taste tests than Minnesota wine, even if they’re actually the same wine.
- Limited options. It’s also been found that you don’t want to inundate the customer with too many options. McDonald’s found out about this the hard way when they offered more than 140 options and their revenue promptly fell by 11% in the first few months of 2015.
With too many options, customers may second guess themselves and think that they made the wrong choice. That makes them feel bad and less satiated after the meal, and that also makes them less likely to come back to the restaurant. That’s why menu designers limit options to just 7 to 10 items per category.
- Studies have revealed where diners first look on menus. And it’s been found that the upper right hand corner is where most people look to first. Ad so of course, this is where restaurant owners will put their most expensive or most profitable items. The cheapest dishes are reserved for the bottom left corner, where people look last.
Of course, there’s nothing inherently evil about these tactics. Restaurateurs need to make money too, and it’s hard enough to keep a restaurant open even with these sly measures!
Have you noticed these tricks when checking out your favorite restaurant’s menu? Share your opinions and comments below.