13 Secrets Your Restaurant Menu Won’t Tell You
Here are the tricks your favorite eateries use to separate you from your money.
It’s all planned out
Have you ever entered a restaurant craving a spinach salad, only to end up ordering the pig roast special? Chances are, the proprietors had a hand in that outcome. Be it a high-end eatery or a fast-food joint, a restaurant’s owners have clever ways to influence your choice. That soft background melody? A Scottish study found that diners spent 23 percent more when slow-tempo music was played. The red walls? That color stimulates appetite. And then there’s the menu. With its mouthwatering prose and ample use of consumer psychology, of course you want to sample every dish. Which of these tricks have you fallen for? Psst: You should also know the secrets your restaurant server isn’t telling you.
They omit the dollar sign
For some consumers, the dollar sign apparently screams, “Watch your wallet!” A Cornell University study found that guests at one restaurant, “given the numeral-only menu, spent significantly more than those who received a menu with prices showing a dollar sign.”
They round up or end prices with 5
Prices ending with a 9, such as $9.99, “tend to signify value but not quality,” says The New York Times. Most restaurants round up; if not, they’ll go with .95. Watch out for these secret ways restaurants get you to eat more.
Consonants that start with the lips indicate flavor
Names with lots of consonants that start with the lips and end in the throat (such as b) tend to mimic the mouth movements of eating. These dishes were rated more flavorful than dishes with names featuring consonants that start from the back of the throat (e.g., the c in “corn”), says a study from the University of Cologne in Germany.
Watch out for boxes
A box around the name of a dish gives the impression that the item is special, says hospitality consultant Cenk Fikri. It works well for dishes that cost little to make and get marked up. The kitchen crew will never, ever tell you these dirty restaurant secrets.
Images are better than words
When dining out, “healthy” is a synonym for “Where’s the flavor?” So restaurants often don’t reference health and instead indicate a dish is good for us by using a signpost, such as a leaf icon.
Bold font and adjectives are key
People notice bold listings 42 percent more than plain type when they read, one study showed. As for the words “tangy” and “plump,” a different study, authored by Cornell professor Brian Wansink, found that the artful use of adjectives increased sales by up to 27 percent. His study showed that “those who ate foods with evocative, descriptive menu names rated [them] as more appealing, tasty, and caloric than their regularly named counterparts.” This is what restaurant owners wish they could tell you.
Look for complex fonts
“Italic typeface conveys a perception of quality,” reports the BBC. A study conducted by Swiss and German researchers found that a wine labeled with a difficult-to-read script was liked more by drinkers than the same wine carrying a label using a simpler typeface.
Long names draw the eye
If boxes, huge fonts, and italics don’t catch your eye, how about a super-long dish name? As the restaurant-software company Toast points out on its blog, anything that is different will draw the eye.
Don’t just look at the top right corner
The most desired piece of real estate on the menu is at the top right because that’s the spot on the page where our eyes tend to be drawn first—so that’s where the restaurant’s most profitable dish will likely be found. And when you place the most expensive dish at the top of the menu, says William Poundstone, author of Priceless: The Myth of Fair Value, “everything else near it looks like a relative bargain”—even when it’s not. Here are some more sneaky menu tricks that are totally influencing your order.