Monthly Archives: November 2014

How Restaurants are Bamboozling You into Spending More.


Dining out has become so common that many of us that sit for a meal probably do not consider what goes into a dining experience behind the scenes, having not worked in the business. What I recently found most interesting about the behind the scenes activities is what restaurant consultants and menu engineers get paid to do by many top tier eateries. The menu consultant is a relatively new niche that has paid tremendous dividends to the restaurants bottom line which explains the boom in popularity.
Significant thought and planning goes into properly nudging the customers decision making process toward the way the restaurant wants you to choose the food you eat.

Listed below are only five of the many ways restaurants use psychological tactics to get you to spend more money, trust me when I tell you that there are many more:

1. Have you noticed many restaurants defer from using dollar signs before the listed price of the dish? The dollar sign is one of the top printable characters that most all restaurants avoid using. The symbols initial interpretation to the customer is a reminder they are about to spend money, triggering a slight pull back response to higher ticket meals as negative feelings can enter their thinking, resulting in less money pulled from their wallet or purses.

2. How is the difference of the last two numbers to the right of the decimal interpreted by consumers? (Eg1: .09 – .95 and .99 ) Menu items ending in .99 tend to signify value as opposed to .95 which is more effective as it appears friendlier and not as close to the next higher dollar amount. That is why menu consultants advise their clients to scrap the entire idea of adding the decimal and the numbers to follow, making the menu easier to decide from but increasing the price if only by a few cents.

3. Using extremely descriptive language is a new approach to offering menu items. Using creative and clever wording has proven to increase sales on many menu items when compared to those that do not have such descriptions.
As an example the item would read something like this. “Maryland Style Crab Cakes: Hand rolled, Chesapeake lump crab meat with a touch of sweet mayonnaise, our secret blend of herbal seasoning encrusted in golden cracker crumbs, creating our one of a kind, signature crab cakes”.
The words description brings a high level of sensory experience to the customer who is reading over the menu. Similar to how a professional server can tantalize the table with their descriptive terms when explaining the evenings special’s and both deliveries typically add more money to the total bill. Additionally it leaves the customer with a more satisfied sensation an the meals end and continue right on through to the desert menu.
Note: I do not intend to include chain restaurants gross misuse of descriptions when using other company names to sell their poor meals such as ‘Jack Daniels sauce atop our Angus Beef Burger’. Its not a novel idea and a poor marketing ploy only Well Doner’s would fall for. (A Well Doner is someone that orders a steak well done, basically cooking out any of the steaks flavor)

4. Connecting food to family is another useful and popular way menu designers drive traffic to a particular item. Customers are drawn to names of relatives such as Aunt’s and Grandmothers. It is likely that Grandmas Homemade Meatballs or Aunt Margie’s Beef Stew sell better than without their names involved.

5. Using expensive items as decoys to draw your attention to a slightly less expensive item is a tactic employed by many fine dining restaurants. The idea is as follows. The restaurant is betting that the customer will not buy the most expensive menu item, but is likely to spend on the second most expensive menu item or one closer in price, believing they are getting a similar item at a more reasonable price, that is the trap.
The reason the $120 item is on the menu is that it stands out as likely the only triple digit menu item and distracts the customer into thinking that all other dishes near it appear more of a bargain yet the entire menu in the same time can be increased in price. What the customer does not realize is that they will receive a smaller portion at a relatively higher price based on what goes into the food cost of the meal. Exactly what the restaurant wanted all along.