Mind tricks of the restaurant trade

There are many tricks that restaurants employ when crafting their menus and some are difficult to weed out, even for those learning to cook online. 

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July 24, 2014 3 min read

What is the menu really trying to say?A hungry customer walks into a restaurant and is handed a thick menu full of delicious choices. He is most likely going to pick only a few specific items, regardless of the size of the menu and the intensity of his hunger. His choice will also not depend upon how much money he hopes to spend. The reason he will only choose from one of just a few items is because the menu has been designed to curb his eye and his hunger toward specific areas on the page. Menus are engineered with great precision by specialists who can turn a low-selling, expensive dish into a customer favorite. There are many tricks that restaurants employ when crafting their menus and some are difficult to weed out, even for those in culinary arts school.

It’s not up to your stomach
When faced with a menu, people’s eyes tend to move in a specific path.

“We generally scan the menu in a z-shaped fashion starting at the top-left hand corner,” said professor Brian Wansink, author of “Marketing Nutrition.”

A restaurant hoping to take advantage of the way readers look at a menu often place their special items in the top right-hand corner. The first item that a consumer is most likely to notice is also the item that he or she is most likely to purchase. Menus can also be manipulated with portion sizes, brand names and pictures. Your eyes tend to draw your stomach along.

Descriptive language can also impact a customer’s choice. If an item sounds good, they tend to believe it will also taste good. This also applies to descriptors, such as ethnic words or nostalgic indicators. The University of Illinois discovered in a study that a descriptive menu increased sales by 27  percent.

Money language
One study performed by the Cornell University School of Hotel Administration attempted to discover the exact reactions customers had to the different ways prices were presented. The study hoped to find out if customers felt differently about an item depending on whether its price was listed with a dollar sign, without any sign, or written out in words. The study data showed that customers are more likely to spend more money on the items without a dollar sign.

Pricing that is listed in the simplest way tends to win in terms of money made, but the price that is placed on an item can also affect the purchaser’s choice. If the item’s price ends in .99 or .95, the customer is more likely to consider that item a better value. However, some restaurants have decided to forgo the cents in exchange for a cleaner look.

Set the mood
Higher-end restaurants use a slightly different approach to setting up their menus. They tend to choose formats that make their food feel more expensive and worth the purchase. This can include leaving out prices or placing high-priced items next to moderately high-priced items. Seeing a cheap dish next to the most expensive dish on the menu can make customers think they have found a deal. Expensive restaurants also play classical music, which can often make customers spend more.

Next time you are seated in a restaurant, take a closer look at what they are trying to serve you.

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