Running a restaurant may seem easy to those who have never done it, but what most people may not know is it’s a lot harder than it looks. Unless you have worked in the restaurant management business, you probably don’t know the tricks that most places use to try and get their customers to spend more. It’s not just simply putting together a menu and cooking some food, there’s a science behind running a successful restaurant, and there have been a lot of studies conducted over the years on what exactly to do with a restaurant menu to sell more items.
10. Menu setup
For the most part, menus tend to be cohesive and make sense, they read in a certain order that makes it easy to find the type of food you’re looking for, if they were made to be confusing it would scare people away from ordering. What you probably don’t know about menus, is they are also set up in a specific way to trick you into ordering the menu items that have the highest profit margin for the restaurant, and for the most part it is done in a subtle way that the majority of people won’t ever notice. There has been plenty of research done to show that whatever menu items are in the middle of the menu page are the ones that people tend to order the most, for whatever reason people tend to be drawn to the middle of the page and any menu items that are listed there. So, it only makes sense that if it’s proven that people are more likely to order the middle menu items, you should work your menu placement around the items you make the most money on. So, if you go into a restaurant and find yourself ordering from the middle of the menu, just know that you are doing exactly what the restaurant wants you to do. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, if you like what you’re ordering and it’s reasonably priced, there’s no reason the restaurant can’t enjoy a higher profit margin while you enjoy your food.
You might not even really think about it, but there’s a reason behind every dish name at every restaurant and the descriptions as well. Often times a restaurant will play up the name of a dish to make it more appealing to the public, including adding unnecessary adjectives and the ever-popular family names. If soup is listed on the menu as just tomato soup, people are less likely to order it than if it was listed as ‘home-style creamy tomato soup’, ‘grandma’s classic tomato soup’, or something along those lines. Using words like grandma or mom elicit a positive emotion and thoughts of home-cooked food just like you used to have when you were a kid, and who doesn’t want to order something that brings back those sorts of memories? The descriptions are similar, and often times a restaurant will add things that are considered premium ingredients to a dish just to be able to add it to the description. For example, if you were to go to a breakfast place and look at the pancake menu, you are a lot more likely to order a menu item that states it has pancakes and fresh fruit than you are to order just pancakes. Yet, a lot of places will serve your pancakes with maybe a handful of blueberries or a couple of strawberries. Despite the small amount of fresh fruit you actually get, you leave feeling satisfied that you were able to get the promised fresh fruit, and the restaurant is happy they could charge you more for the promised premium topping. The names and descriptions of dishes are just one of the ways restaurants trick you into spending more.
8. Using smaller dishes
Restaurants have been reducing the size of their dishes in order to charge the same price for a smaller amount of food, and they have been doing so without the knowledge of their customers and without notifying anyone. Most people do not pay attention to the size of their plates when eating out, even if they eat at the same restaurants quite often, it’s not really anyone’s idea of an important detail, and so we don’t pay any attention. Restaurants have been using this to their advantage, and have been subtly switching out their old dishes for new ones that are smaller. This switch allows them to serve less food on the plate but have it still look the same to the average customer, and they are then charging the same amount as they were for the larger dish, but they are able to make a higher profit margin due to the reduced amount of ingredients needed in order to fill the smaller plates. Restaurants are taking advantage of the fact that most customers trust them and do not pay attention to how much food they are actually getting. It’s really a smart idea on the restaurants end, to make a bit more profit by reducing portion size without the customer noticing, but for the customer it’s not a great deal because they are paying the same amount of money for less food and they don’t even realize it.
7. Photos of the food
Have you ever looked at a menu and spotted a picture of a specific dish, and thought to yourself that you should order that menu item because it looked so good in the picture? That is exactly what restaurants are trying to get you to do when they have pictures of their food on the menus. It’s been studied and proven that having a picture of a dish on the menu can increase sales by up to three times. This huge increase in potential sales means that restaurants very carefully choose what dishes to present to you in those menu pictures. They tend to choose dishes that photograph well, and on top of that they also choose those dishes that are more expensive or they make a higher profit margin on. Along with pictures of their regular menu items, a lot of restaurants also use this method to sell their limited time specials, providing pictures of the dishes to entice people to order food that they aren’t able to get there all the time. The pictures also tend to show the dish at it’s prime, and it’s usually dressed up to look more appealing in the pictures than it does when you are actually served it, not to say the dish might not look good or taste delicious, but the pictures are taken specificially to sell the item so they might not be completely accurate to what you actually get. Most people don’t even realize that those pictures can influence people’s decision on what to order as much as they do, but it is a proven method that many restaurants currently employ.
6. Lighting and music
Can the lighting of a restaurant really influence how much people spend there? You may be surprised to find out that the answer is yes. Places with softer lighting tend to be considered more comfortable for customers, and because they feel more comfortable, they are more willing to spend a longer amount of time there. The more time a person is willing to spend in a restaurant, the more likely they are to spend more money, whether it’s on more drinks while they are there, or even a dessert at the end of their meal. Soft lighting is easy on the eyes and induced a relaxed feeling in people, which for most of us means we aren’t in a rush to eat quickly and get out of there. Lighting isn’t the only ambient tool that restaurants utilize to make people spend more though, music is another one. You may notice that a lot of places that have live music tend to have some sort of classic music, and other places that have music playing over speakers tend to play a softer style of music. This is all by design. It has been shown that classical or soft music not only relaxes people, but tends to make them spend on average ten percent more than restaurants with no music or other music.
5. Anchor items
This one is pretty sneaky, and most people have no idea that they are even being tricked with it. Using an anchor item on your menu is a great way to sell more expensive menu items but make your customers think that they are getting a great deal. The premise of this menu trick is to place your more expensive menu items beside an even more expensive menu item, not to try and sell the most expensive item necessarily, but to make the slightly less expensive item sell more. The logic behind it is that you will see the most expensive item, and the slightly less expensive item side by side, and you are more likely to order the slightly less expensive item thinking that you are getting a great deal. Take for example a menu that has a steak dinner for $40, you might think that is a lot of money to pay for a steak dinner, until you spot the $60 steak dinner on the menu beside it, in this scenario you are more likely to order the $40 steak dinner because you think you’re getting a great deal when it is compared to the $60 dinner. Next time you go to a restaurant, look out for these anchor items on the menu.
This trick might sound silly when you read it, but if it wasn’t a proven method of getting people to order specific items, it wouldn’t be utilized by so many restaurants. You may have looked at a restaurant’s menu and noticed that some items are surrounded by some sort of box, whether it has some fancy flourishes on it, or it is simply just a different colour that stands out from the rest of the menu. Either way this box is there for a specific reason, that is to draw your eye to those menu items. A simple box might seem like it’s not some big trick that restaurants use to influence what people order, but it actually is exactly that. What you may not realize is these boxes are actually proven to make people more likely to buy those menu items, so restaurants use them to sell more expensive items or menu items that they make a higher profit margin on. Most people think nothing of those boxes, they can be found on almost every restaurant menu in North America, but those little boxes are actually a trick used to make you order what the restaurant wants you to order.
3. Font and placement
A menu’s font is usually chosen to be easy to read for everyone and stand out nicely from the background of the menu, they want people to be able to read everything and make a choice. Restaurants, especially those that are on the more expensive side of things, actually use different fonts and placement to make it harder for you to compare prices on different menu items. They do this in order to confuse you and try to get you to order items that may not be the best deal for your money but they may make more profit off of that item. A lot of higher end restaurants with have their prices in the middle of the menu, making it so you’re more likely to read the description of the dish before you see the price. If the prices are not all lined up nicely along the side so you can see all of them together, it makes it harder for the customer to compare and more likely to just pick a dish and order it. A lot of nicer restaurants will also leave out any currency symbols and list the price as just a number, this has actually been proven to get people to spend more.
2. Specials and brand names
You have probably been to a restaurant that has some sort of special on the menu, whether it is a permanent addition to their menu or a limited time offer, either way you have most likely come across this at least once in your life. This is done to try and sell items that the restaurant makes more money on, by throwing words like chef’s special or daily special on the menu and listing a few items, it makes it seem more enticing for the average consumer. Despite the fact that most restaurants have specials that they list either permanently or temporarily, these dishes tend not to be anything particularily out of the ordinary or spectacular. Most people will be drawn to something that seems to be better than the rest of the menu items, which is exactly what the title ‘special’ does for these chosen dishes, even if it is just a regular dish and there’s nothing particularly different or amazing about it. Another trick that they use is adding brand names into the name or description of their dish. Customers are more likely to order a menu item if they see a brand name that they know and enjoy, and restaurants know this and utilize that to their advantage to sell specific dishes. People are easily influenced by subtle wording, and most don’t even realize that they are falling into the trap of ordering exactly how the restaurants want you to order.
1. Being vague
When you read menu item descriptions, most people don’t really pay attention to the fact that the portion sizes tend to be pretty vague for most items. Most restaurants don’t list the exact weight, size or number of items that you get when you order a lot of their menu items, so you are left to fill in the blanks yourself, and this image you create in your head of how much food you expect to get is what drives you to order that menu item. This is really common in places that serve salads, soups and sandwiches, and they tend to employ another sneaky trick along with the vague description of portion sizes to try to get customers to order more. Take for example places that offer two options for sandwiches, a half sandwich or a full sandwich. They never actually describe how big the sandwich is, which means people are often left unsure if the half sandwich would be enough to fill them up, even though it very well might be. This makes it so people are more likely to order the full sandwich already, and if that wasn’t enough to convince you to order more, they also increase the cost of the half sandwich. This increase in price for the smaller menu item makes the larger menu item look more appealing because the price seems like a better deal, making you want to order more food. Either way the restaurant is making a great profit margin on most of these items.