When you go to a Penn & Teller show in Las Vegas, you expect to be tricked. That’s literally why you bought the tickets. But when you walk into a McDonald’s, you expect delicious french fries, not sleight of hand trickery. However, the fact that you don’t expect tricks is exactly what Mickey D’s is counting on – and why you are more susceptible to them. So, pay attention, because here are 10 McDonald’s Tricks You Fall For Every Single Time.
10. Image Placement
Besides that oh so mouth-watering smell of french fries, the first thing you might notice when you walk into a McDonald’s is all of the images and signage they have everywhere – touting everything from on-sale items to new happy meal toys. But what you might not have paid attention to is where those images are located. Did you know that when people eat at a buffet, they are more likely to pile their plates with the first three items they see? Well, McDonald’s definitely knows this and has used that little nugget of human behavior to their advantage by placing images of the items they are trying to promote the most, right at the entrance. Making these items the first things you see, increases the odds of you ordering them. It might be a new product or a signature sandwich, but whatever it is, it’s probably on the more expensive side – which is the direction they are trying to nudge you as you walk up to the counter to order. In a restaurant covered with imagery and smells, it’s easy to be subconsciously taken in by this little placement trick. Maybe you walked in ready to order your usual value menu meal. But now, thanks to some sneaky decision anchoring trickery, that image of the brand new, more expensive, burger you saw right when you walked in the door is stuck in your head and you simply have to try it. And while you might think you made that decision all on your own, chances are, you probably didn’t!
9. The Kiosks
For a new generation of McDonald’s customers, they will never know a time when the restaurant didn’t have self-ordering kiosks. A time when you had to go up to the counter, stare at that big menu board and tell the employee at the cash register what you wanted – while hungry and impatient customers stood over your shoulder, giving you the stink-eye if you took an extra second to make your decision. Well, not anymore. In an attempt to make the whole process more customer-friendly, McDonald’s installed self-order kiosks in many of their restaurants. And while you might think it’s good for you, let us assure you that it’s good for McDonald’s as well. Providing a safe space for people to order makes them feel more comfortable and that positive feeling brings them into the restaurant more often. Not only that but giving customers the ability to take their time means they do more browsing of the menu and feel less pressure and less guilt about what they are ordering (with no one standing behind them, or judging them). This in turn means that folks end up spending more money per order, on average, than people who order at the counter. It’s like killing two birds with one stone: you feel less pressured, and they get more of your money, it’s a win-win! Or is it?
8. Keep Us Moving
Who likes waiting in line? Except for that one guy who raised his hand, the rest of us would rather do pretty much anything else besides wait in line. Especially for fast food (which has the word “fast” right there in its name). So, in order to fight the natural human impatience of waiting, McDonald’s has a few tricks up their sleeves. And while it doesn’t always mean you will be waiting for less time, at least you will be doing it in different places. The human brain sure is fascinating and one fun fact about how it works is that if you have to wait in two different lines for five minutes each, you’ll actually be less annoyed than if you have to wait in one line for 10 minutes. So, how have the golden Arches used this tidbit of human psychology to its advantage? They move us around. First, there is the ordering line (or the kiosks if you prefer) and then once you order you move to the pick-up line. And many McDonald’s restaurants now provide you with an order number which removes the second line entirely and lets you just hang around the pick-up area – which feels even less stressful. You can also often see a monitor displaying the order numbers being served and the ones being prepared because knowing how long you have to wait makes you even more patient about the waiting. You’re number 36 on the list? Who cares, at least you know when you’re not getting your food!
7. The Mobile App
The introduction of the McDonald’s mobile application was one of the biggest successes the company has had in recent years, for many reasons. Just like the in-restaurant ordering kiosks allowed people to take their time ordering and avoid as much in-person interaction as possible – the app does the same but takes it even one step further. With the app, you don’t even have to enter the restaurant if you don’t want to. Many locations offer curbside pickup as well as drive-thru, where you just have to speak your order code into the drive-thru speaker and your food will be ready for you at the window. The goal of technology is to make our lives easier and this app is a perfect example of that. And in locations where McDonald’s offers delivery, it’s all made that much easier. Now you don’t even have to leave your house. Just order via the app, sit back, and wait for someone to bring your Big Mac and fries right to your door! And with the ease and convenience of it all, it means more people are making McDonald’s a go-to meal more often than they used to – which is good for the golden arches corporation, of course.
6. The Menu Board
There is so much going on with the McDonald’s menu board. So many little psychological tricks both subtle and not so subtle, all playing with your mind and stomach in an attempt to get you to spend as much money as possible. Some are pretty obvious, while others are things you’ve probably never even thought about (but McDonald’s sure did). One of the most interesting things to notice about the menu board at McDonald’s isn’t what is on it, but rather what isn’t. Unlike a regular restaurant where the menu lists every food choice they offer, the menu board at most fast food joints offer a curated list (often leaving off some of the cheapest and least profitable options). Instead, they provide lots of menu board real estate to new and more expensive items (often these also get mouth-watering photos as well). It’s probably better to think of the menu board as an advertising billboard rather than an actual menu. And McDonald’s is using that billboard in an attempt to push you towards certain items and away from the standard value meal choices many people usually make. Many people have very ingrained ordering habits at places like McDonald’s and if they can snap you out of those lower-profit habits and get you exploring the more profitable side of the menu, then their job here has been done.
5. No Prices
Have you ever noticed that there’s often no price information on McDonald’s promo materials? This isn’t an accident or a mistake made by the printer guy. It’s done very much on purpose and is meant to focus your attention on the food you will be getting and not the money you’ll be “losing.” You see, as human beings, we tend to focus on the money spent rather than the product we got in return – even when it is something we really want. So, to fight this part of our psychology, McDonald’s keeps prices off of their advertising, pamphlets, etc. With certain exceptions. While they try to avoid mentioning prices for higher cost menu items, they will put prices front and center when they are low and/or involve significant savings. A perfect example of this is their ever-popular dollar menu. We’ve all seen dollar menu advertising featuring 1$, 2$, and 3$ graphics in bold. Hyping these actual prices makes sense because it is focused on low prices and savings – which speaks to value and the idea that what you are getting for your money is worth more than what you’re spending. It certainly doesn’t take a genius to see the psychological and behavioral value in that.
4. Health Halo
This one is really interesting and probably the one that highlights the biggest “trick.” The concept of the health halo is the idea that displaying healthier options on the menu makes everything else on the menu seem healthier as well. Crazy right!? But it’s true. We all know that McDonald’s has tried to add more “healthy” items to their menu to bring in more health-conscious customers. But as it turns out, These “healthy” options also helps sales of the more unhealthy (and more delicious choices). And all it takes is a few photographs. Putting images of salads and bottled water on that big menu board radiates healthy feelings to the images right next to it of burgers and fries. And in doing so makes people feel less guilty and more comfortable making the less-healthy choice. We all know that those greasy and salt-covered fries aren’t any better for us than they were before we walked in the door. And yet, when we see them within the halo of those bright images of “healthy” salads, our minds associate the healthiness of the salad with the fries. And let’s face it, we all go into McDonald’s wanting to order fries and burgers. So, if we can, even subconsciously, convince ourselves that they are “healthier,” then this is a trick we are more than ready to fall for. McDonald’s knows this and implements the health halo to nudge you towards where you really want to be anyway.
The “tricks” McDonald’s plays on us are basically to accomplish one of two things (if not both). They are designed to get more people eating McDonald’s and to get those eating McDonald’s to spend more money by buying more and/or ordering the more expensive items. Using subtle animations is designed for the latter. Status Quo bias is a real thing and, in the case of McDonald’s customers, refers to the fact that many people tend to have a usual order that they stick with. We humans love a good routine and are much more likely to stick with what we know we like rather than give something new a try. And when that status quo is the less expensive menu items, it obviously isn’t as good for the golden arches. So, how can they break us out of that routine? One way is by using animation on their displays and menu boards. Next time you go into a McDonald’s, pay attention to the screens and you will see things, sometimes very small and subtle, such as the quick highlight of a certain menu item or images flashing for a second. These small, but important, movements are meant to catch our eye and focus our attention on what they want us to pay attention to, as opposed to the same old value menu items we are used to ordering. We are like cats and the menu board movements are like McDonald’s waving a red laser pointer around showing all of the stuff they want us to buy as we swat at it subconsciously.
2. Price Anchoring
We know that McDonald’s wants us to spend more money in their restaurants. However, the general assumption that most of us make is that they are trying to get us to purchase the more expensive items. And while that is definitely something the chain wants, they are also very happy if we just purchase more of the less expensive items – in the end, it still works out nicely for them. So, while those higher-priced Signature burgers and meals provide a bigger bang for the buck for Mickey D’s, they also act as a sneaky trick to make other items seem like more of a deal than they actually are. It’s something called price anchoring and it works like this. McDonald’s will go ahead and scale back its dollar menu putting many of the basic menu items back to their regular prices. Then they will put them on the menu next to big, showy, higher-priced signature sandwiches and the like. What this does is make those other items look like a deal in the mind of the customer – and who doesn’t love a good deal! Taking that into account, we are now also more likely to spend even more – like adding an order of McNuggets or a Milkshake to our meal. And why not? We’re getting such a good deal we can allow ourselves to splurge a little. It’s actually pretty brilliant, don’t you think?
1. Nicer Restaurants
You may have noticed that many McDonald’s locations have gotten a nice design overhaul over the last few years. There was a time when the chain didn’t want the restaurants to be too nice because they were all about customer turnover and didn’t want people hanging around for too long. They wanted you to come in, eat and get out so there was room for the next people to come in, eat, and get out. But those times are in the past. These days with all the competition for your food dollars, (both fast food and otherwise) McDonald’s now has the goal of providing the most pleasant experience possible. If you feel good in a McDonald’s you are more likely to come back again and again. This covers everything from the different ordering options (either counter, kiosk, or app) as well as “fancier” decor (nicer tables, chairs, and so on) and keeping the locations clean (although, we have all been to a McDonald’s where they have definitely dropped the ball on that part). But overall, the chain understands that they can’t just rely on quick service and low prices anymore. We want more and we want to feel good about our choice. So, they are trying to provide that good feeling from the moment we walk in to the moment we walk out – no rush.