That Menu Is Playing With Your Mind, Wallet

Restaurants high and low use psychology to boost spending
By Harry Kimball,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 23, 2009 10:32 AM CST
That Menu Is Playing With Your Mind, Wallet
A customer looks over the menu at the Camellia Grill.   (AP Photo)

In the recession, restaurants casual and white tablecloth alike are desperately updating one of their secret moneymakers: the menu. Numerous studies have concluded that customers spend more when items have sumptuous descriptions, a relative’s name is included, or, most importantly, the $ sign is banished entirely. Whether you can conscience it or not, this is why certain Applebee’s dishes are “slammed with flavor.”

One menu engineer boasts to the New York Times that he’s been “taking dollar signs off menus for 25 years,” removing awareness of the “pain of paying” and making people pay more in the process. Menu tricks range from the aesthetic—certain font colors trigger certain reactions, in theory—to the more devious—pairing unappetizing, cheaper dishes next to better-sounding, more expensive ones. Whatever restaurateurs do, a professor says, “creative things are going on because the restaurants are trying to hold on for dear life.” (More restaurateurs stories.)

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