Dropping the dollar signs.
Many modern restaurant menus are completely devoid of dollar signs because research has shown they make us think about how much we’ll be spending instead of how good the food will taste.
Using lots of delicious adjectives.
Studies show descriptive menu labels raised sales by 28 percent compared to the items without. Which one sounds better: pork on lettuce with nuts and cherries or warm shaved pork loin on local organic lettuces with Marcona almonds and dried cherries? That’s what I thought.
Selling with smell.
There’s a reason you only find Cinnabon stores in the mall: being inside traps the mouthwatering smells that waft from their front-facing ovens so that you shoppers can’t get away from it. Some store operators even heat additional sheets of brown sugar and cinnamon between batches to keep the aroma in the air. Panera, Starbucks, and even McDonalds are known use scent as a marketing tactic as well.
Being tricky with prices.
People assume prices that end with $9.99 indicate quantity but not always quality. On the other hand, prices that end with .95 instead of .99 are often perceived as “friendlier.”
Wrapping it in bacon.
Which are you more likely to order: asparagus or bacon-wrapped asparagus? “Bacon is still a buzzword for diners — even if we’re bored by food flops like bacon ice cream, we are always enticed to see what the tasty, salted pig-part has been paired with this time,”explains Chef’s Blade.
Boxing you in.
Foods that are highlighted, bolded or boxed in appear fancier or more important, increasing the chances we’ll order them. But be careful: “In most cases, these are the least healthy items on the menu,” says Brian Wansink, author of Slim by Design: Mindless Eating Solutions for Everyday Life.
Sucking you in with sexy billboards (and commercials).
First of all, no burger or sack of fries has ever looked as good in real life as it does in the advertisement. That’s because the ad burger got 30 minutes of food styling whereas the one in your hand got 30 seconds of microwaving. Also “when you’re driving down the interstate and you see 30 feet of a delicious-looking burger, your brain processes it as if it’s much closer to you than it actually is. Before you know it you’re taking that exit without even thinking about it.”
Offering two portion sizes.
In the restaurant world this is also known as “bracketing.” This tactic often makes us feel worried that the “small” won’t be enough, especially when we can get the “large” for just a few dollars more. In reality you have no idea what the difference is between portion sizes, and the restaurant probably makes more money when you order big.
Making friends with your kids.
The foods you love when you’re young are your favorites for life. That’s why every fast food chain on the planet has an entire section of the menu (and often the restaurant)dedicated to your kids. It’s also a well-known fact that parents will do just about anything to silence a car full of hungry, whiny children–especially if it’s as easy as pulling into the drive-thru.
Distracting you with expensive decoys.
When you see outrageously price items on a menu, it’s not because you’re in the wrong restaurant. It’s because they’re trying to make the other items seem cheaper by comparison. This is a tactic known as ‘the anchor.’ “Momofuku Noodle Bar recently added caviar as an anchor…to its inexpensive late night fare. In comparison with $10 to $16 entrees, this upwards of $100 side dish seems a bit flashy. But that might be just their point!” explains Chef’s Blade.
Enticing you with the daily “special.”
As anyone who worked in the restaurant industry can tell you, there’s only two reasons something’s on “special:” It’s more expensive or it’s something the restaurant needs to get rid of.
Making it hard to comparison shop.
Some restaurants (particularly expensive ones) put their prices all over the place and use complicated fonts. Your eyes like straight lines, so jumbling everything up makes it harder to compare prices. It also forces you read through the item descriptions in order to find the price which means you’re more likely to choose an expensive item.
Making you see red (and blue).
In hospitality management school, restauranteurs are taught to pay attention to the colors on their menu, and in the restaurant itself. “Red and blue stimulate appetite, while gray and purple stimulate satiation.”
Inflating drink sizes.
“If you walked into a fast food restaurant 25 years ago and asked for a large soda, it would be a lot smaller than a large soda served at today’s fast food establishments,”explains The Daily Meal. “The reason behind this is simple: customers don’t mind spending a few extra dimes for a gigantic soda, and it costs the restaurants next to nothing.”
You’ll often see dishes named after families members–Grandma’s Pecan Pie, Aunt Clara’s Famous Meatloaf–because we’re suckers for nostalgia. Diners are drawn to the idea of a secret family recipe being passed down from generation to generation, or someone’s mother mixing up treats in the kitchen. In Bill Buford’s national bestseller Heat, Mario Batali is quoted as saying, “I know it doesn’t make sense and I don’t understand it. But … women are better cooks.”
Remember this list next time you eat out, and you might be surprised how many you notice!