MUST READ – 7 Ways Menus Make You Spend

February 12, 2012

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Ever wonder why some menus list their prices without dollar signs?  Did you ever consider while flipping through a menu that some sort of business strategy was involved in it’s design?  I haven’t.  I’m always concerned with deciding what to eat and looking for the most help in eliminating the options.  Clever restaurants are happy to oblige by implementing tactics designed to steer you toward the most profitable items.

Here’s how they do it:


You pick a category, pasta, steak, chicken, etc.  Did you know that customers statistically order the first item on the list in the category they choose? That’s where the clever restauranteur places the items with the highest margin of profit – mainly chicken.


If you see a menu option that’s boxed off, it’s probably making the restaurant a good chunk of change.  It’s meant to draw your attention and it works.


Popular items that are harder to prepare and less profitable for the restaurant are more difficult to find on a smart menu.  They get lost in the shuffle while low cost high profit choices are easier for you to see.

$23.00 or 23?:

Of course you’ve got to pay, but most people get squeamish about seeing dollar signs on a menu.  Many menus show just a number in an attempt to keep the concept of payment as abstract to the customer as possible.

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The up sell is used to get you to buy more than you want at a price you feel is fair, or even a good deal.  You think you are getting much more food for only a little more money.  Many times package deals are highlighted while the a la cart item you really want is shuffled.  This is a strategy that usually involves more profit for them.  If you itemize a value meal it doesn’t look that great.

Fries and soda cost nothing to them, but you can easily double the cost to yourself by adding them to a sandwich.  If you have a choice on plate size and want to know which dish gives you more value the $9 or the $12.  It’s neither.  The $12 is a decoy.  Your supposed to choose the smaller dish.  It’s a win/win for them.

I know that these things are going to be so glaringly and laughably obvious every time we go to a restaurant now.  I’m going to have fun picking through the menu on my next visit.

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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

katrina @ tic April 24, 2011 at 11:59 pm

Very interesting. I will have to pay more attention next time!


Aprile Mazey April 25, 2011 at 12:30 am

Hmmm…never noticed these things before but now I do! Thanks!


Culinary Student June 4, 2012 at 11:04 pm

Oh if you only knew. I had a whole entire class in my program dedicated to designing a good menu. There are psychologists who have studied brain waves as people read them, and what/how the eye processes it. Frankly there are a lot of crap ones out there, but its better to know what to look for so you don’t over spend. BTW that coke you ordered…it cost them $0.04 to give you a 16oz glass (with ice). A cup of nice coffee…$0.08 per cup and a crummy cup $0.05 or less than that. Ice tea? $0.07. Just something to think about when you pay your $1.50-$2+.


Becky January 11, 2013 at 6:37 pm

Also look at the two for twenty deals. If you would not normally buy an appatizer you can get some of these meals for less than that.
We always get water when we go out. for a family of 4 that saves us $8.00 a meal when eating out.


Angela January 11, 2013 at 6:52 pm

OH those sneaky businesses, trying to make a profit! What dastardly things will they do next??


Annette January 11, 2013 at 10:00 pm

Good things to think about… but honestly eating at home is always cheaper. If I’m going out I want to have what I want to eat and drink, not just what’s cheapest. The soda or tea or coffee or wine might be a huge markup but sometimes it nice to enjoy them with your meal.


kelly mcgrew March 2, 2014 at 3:52 am

very interesting..!


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