If you find yourself leaving restaurants wondering how you spent so much money, a carefully-designed menu may be to blame.
Restaurant consultant Aaron D. Allen broke down exactly how restaurants try to influence decision making using menu design in a LinkedIn post.
Allen reveals that nothing on a well-produced menu is random. Instead, everything from colors to the material on which the menu is printed subconsciously influence our choices.
Here are six of the biggest factors that you probably don’t realize are swaying your decision when you order.
Restaurants use green to imply to customers that the food is fresh, orange to stimulate their appetites, and red to encourage action — and buy meals with the highest profit margin. In other words, take a second before ordering a bright red menu item.
“The Golden Triangle,” as dubbed by menu engineers, is formed by how customers look at a menu. Our eyes typical move to the middle, then the top right corner, and then the top left. The dishes listed in the golden triangle are usually the ones with the highest profit margins that the restaurant most wants you to purchase.
In each section, placement comes into play yet again. Customers are more likely to order the top two menu items, so this is where restaurants will place their highest-margin dishes (the ones that cost customers the most while costing the restaurant less to make). The last item is the third most likely option, making it the place for the third most cost-effective dish.
3. Faux expensive options
By placing a slightly more expensive item or two at the top of the menu, other dishes look more reasonably priced. Remember, you aren’t always getting a bargain just because something is cheaper than the first thing the restaurant decided to list on the menu.
4. Dollars and cents
The difference between “$10.95” and “$11” is more than five cents. Restaurants trying to appeal to customers' cost-consciousness are less likely to round up a few cents. Meanwhile, restaurants aiming for sophistication use round numbers and remove currency symbols to take the emphasis away from the cost. In fact, prices written out in letters encourage customers to spend up to 30% more.
5. Menu material
Menu manipulation goes beyond what is written on the menu — it includes what the menu is printed on. High-end restaurants signal their food is high-quality with leather and thick paper menus, while more inexpensive restaurants use vinyl to subconsciously hint that they serve food at a good bargain.
6. Extra, eye-catching information
Items with longer descriptions stand out, so it’s no surprise that the highest profit offerings are more likely to occupy more room on the menu. Restaurants tend to lengthen these descriptions with imaginative adjectives like “line-caught” or “sun-dried," as opposed to superlatives, like “the world’s best burger,” which are easier for customers to disbelieve.