Have you ever wondered why certain dishes catch your eye on a restaurant menu? Or why you’re tempted to order extras even when you’re not that hungry? It turns out there’s a science behind menu design, and yes, it’s all about getting you to spend more.
In this article, we’ll delve into the psychological tactics and design techniques that restaurants use to influence your choices and encourage you to splurge.
Table of Contents
The Psychology Behind Menu Design
Understanding the psychology of decision-making can give restaurants an edge when it comes to designing their menus. Two key psychological principles at play are the primacy and recency effects, and price anchoring.
Primacy and Recency Effects
The primacy effect suggests that we tend to remember the first items we encounter, while the recency effect refers to our tendency to recall the most recent items. Restaurants capitalize on these cognitive biases by placing high-profit items at the beginning and end of menu sections, knowing that customers are more likely to select them.
Price anchoring is a psychological phenomenon where we rely heavily on the first piece of information we receive to make decisions. In the context of menu design, restaurants often list an expensive item first to anchor the perception of cost. This makes the subsequent, more reasonably priced items seem like a better value in comparison.
The decoy effect occurs when a third option is introduced to sway your choice between two competing options. For example, a restaurant might list a high-priced dish alongside a more reasonably priced one, then add a slightly cheaper dish with fewer features. The middle option now appears more appealing, and customers are more likely to choose it.
Menu Layout and Design Techniques
In addition to psychological tricks, restaurants employ a variety of design techniques to make their menus more enticing and profitable.
Strategic Menu Item Placement
Menu items are often strategically placed to draw attention to high-profit dishes. The “Golden Triangle” refers to the pattern our eyes naturally follow when scanning a menu—starting at the top left, moving to the top right, then down to the bottom right. Restaurants place their most profitable items in these prime locations to increase their chances of being ordered.
Use of Colors and Fonts
Colors and fonts play a crucial role in guiding customers’ attention and influencing their choices. Bold colors and unique fonts can make certain dishes stand out, while subdued colors and standard fonts can make less profitable items recede into the background.
Boxed Items and Callouts
Restaurants often use boxes or other design elements to highlight specific dishes, making them more prominent and enticing. This tactic can be used to draw attention to
high-profit items or special promotions that the restaurant wants to push.
Descriptive Language and Imagery
Using evocative descriptions and appetizing images can entice customers to order specific dishes. By incorporating sensory language and vivid details, restaurants create a mental picture of the dish that can be hard to resist. Similarly, high-quality images can showcase the dish’s appeal and encourage customers to give it a try.
How Restaurants Encourage Upselling
Upselling is the practice of encouraging customers to buy more expensive items or add extras to their orders. Restaurants use various techniques to boost their bottom line through upselling.
The Power of Recommendation
Waitstaff play a critical role in upselling by offering personalized suggestions and highlighting the most profitable items. By enthusiastically describing a dish or suggesting a particular wine pairing, servers can influence customers’ decisions and increase the average check size.
Bundle Deals and Add-Ons
Offering bundle deals or add-ons can make it more appealing for customers to spend more. For example, restaurants may offer a discounted appetizer with the purchase of a main course, or suggest additional toppings for an extra charge. These tactics create a perception of value and encourage customers to enhance their dining experience.
Limited Time Offers
Limited-time offers create a sense of urgency and exclusivity, prompting customers to order special items before they’re gone. Seasonal dishes or holiday promotions can entice customers to spend more than they typically would, as they don’t want to miss out on a unique opportunity.
The Role of Menu Engineering
Menu engineering is the process of analyzing and optimizing a restaurant’s menu to maximize profitability. By evaluating each menu item’s popularity and profitability, restaurant owners can make informed decisions about which dishes to promote, remove, or reposition. This data-driven approach allows restaurants to tailor their menus to customer preferences and ensure that their most profitable items are prominently featured.
Removing Dollar Signs and Decimals
Some restaurants choose to remove dollar signs and decimals from their menus to downplay the cost of items. This strategy is based on the idea that seeing the currency symbol can evoke negative feelings associated with spending money. By removing these symbols, the menu may appear less intimidating, and customers may be more inclined to order higher-priced items.
Offering Daily Specials
Daily specials are a popular tactic used by restaurants to entice customers to spend more. These limited-time offers usually feature unique or high-quality ingredients that aren’t part of the regular menu. Since daily specials are often verbally communicated by waitstaff or written on a separate board, customers may perceive them as exclusive or better value, making them more likely to order these items.
Focusing on Local or Organic Ingredients
Emphasizing the use of local, organic, or sustainable ingredients can create a perception of higher quality and justify higher prices. Restaurants that focus on these ingredients often highlight them in their menu descriptions, making customers more willing to pay a premium for dishes made with these components.
Offering a Wide Variety of Options
By providing an extensive array of menu options, restaurants cater to different tastes and preferences, making it more likely that customers will find something they’re willing to spend more on. However, it’s essential not to overwhelm customers with too many choices, as this can lead to decision paralysis and reduced satisfaction.
Customizable Menu Items
Allowing customers to customize their dishes by choosing from a range of ingredients, portion sizes, or accompaniments can encourage them to spend more. When people feel they have control over their meal, they may be more willing to pay extra for a personalized dining experience.
Examples in Restaurants Today
1. Primacy and Recency Effects
At The Cheesecake Factory, a popular American chain, the menu features appetizers like the “Avocado Eggrolls” and “Tex Mex Eggrolls” near the beginning and end of the appetizer section. These items have a higher profit margin than some of the other options, making them prime candidates for taking advantage of the primacy and recency effects.
2. Price Anchoring
At a high-end steakhouse, like Ruth’s Chris Steak House, you might see an expensive cut of meat, such as a “Tomahawk Ribeye,” listed at the top of the menu. This sets the anchor price, and the rest of the steak options seem more reasonably priced in comparison.
3. Decoy Effect
At a casual dining restaurant like Chili’s, you might find a menu section that features three burger options: a “Classic Burger” at $10, a “Bacon Cheeseburger” at $12, and a “Triple Bacon Cheeseburger” at $12.50. In this case, the “Triple Bacon Cheeseburger” serves as a decoy, making the “Bacon Cheeseburger” appear to be a better value.
4. Strategic Menu Item Placement
In-N-Out Burger, a popular fast-food chain, uses strategic menu item placement by only listing a few items on their menu, emphasizing their simplicity and focusing on their most profitable items like the “Double-Double” burger.
5. Use of Colors and Fonts
At McDonald’s, the menu boards often use bold colors and fonts to highlight their most profitable items, such as the “Big Mac” and “Quarter Pounder,” while using smaller fonts and less vibrant colors for less profitable items.
6. Boxed Items and Callouts
At Olive Garden, an Italian-American casual dining chain, you might find a menu section featuring their “Tour of Italy” dish, which is a combination of three popular entrees. This item is placed in a box with an eye-catching design, drawing attention to it and encouraging guests to order it.
7. Bundle Deals and Add-Ons
Starbucks is known for offering bundle deals and add-ons. For example, they may offer a discounted price for a breakfast sandwich when you purchase a coffee, or they might suggest adding a shot of flavored syrup to your drink for an extra charge.
8. Limited Time Offers
Many restaurants offer limited-time promotions to create a sense of urgency. For example, Red Lobster has their annual “Endless Shrimp” event, where customers can order unlimited shrimp dishes for a set price. This limited-time offer encourages diners to visit the restaurant and spend more than they typically would.
In conclusion, restaurant menus are indeed designed to make you spend more. By utilizing psychological principles, strategic design techniques, and upselling tactics, restaurants can influence your choices and encourage you to splurge. Next time you dine out, keep these strategies in mind and see if you can spot the subtle ways your favorite restaurant tries to get you to spend a little extra.
What is the Golden Triangle in menu design?
The Golden Triangle refers to the pattern our eyes naturally follow when scanning a menu—starting at the top left, moving to the top right, then down to the bottom right. Restaurants place their most profitable items in these prime locations to increase their chances of being ordered.
How does price anchoring work in restaurant menus?
Price anchoring is a psychological phenomenon where we rely heavily on the first piece of information we receive to make decisions. Restaurants often list an expensive item first to anchor the perception of cost, making subsequent, more reasonably priced items seem like a better value in comparison.
What is menu engineering?
Menu engineering is the process of analyzing and optimizing a restaurant’s menu to maximize profitability. This data-driven approach helps restaurant owners make informed decisions about which dishes to promote, remove, or reposition based on their popularity and profitability.
How do restaurants use upselling techniques?
Restaurants use upselling techniques such as personalized recommendations from waitstaff, bundle deals, add-ons, and limited-time offers to encourage customers to buy more expensive items or enhance their orders.
What role does descriptive language play in menu design?
Descriptive language helps create a mental picture of a dish by incorporating sensory details and vivid imagery. This entices customers to order the dish by appealing to their senses and making it seem more appetizing.