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Ways Menus Make You Spend

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Ways Menus Make You Spend
  1. First in show. Many restaurants group their offerings under the obvious headings: pasta, beef, seafood, entrees, appetizers and so on. Testing has shown that if you decide on chicken, you are more likely to order the first item on the chicken list. That’s where a savvy restaurant will place its most profitable chicken dish. A really sharp chef might put a puzzler like sweetbreads first in a grouping.
  2. Menu Siberia. Unprofitable dishes, like a seafood combo plate that require expensive ingredients, and lots of work, are usually banished to a corner that’s less noticeable or in a multi-page menu stashed on page five.
  3. Visual aids. If you draw a line around it, people will order. That’s why many menus box off something they want to promote. Chicken wings are a prime example. They’re “garbage,” says my son of one of my favorite noshes.
  4. Package deals. So you stop by McDonald’s for a mid-afternoon burger. When you get to the counter, however, what’s really in your face are photos of Extra Value Meals. You figure, says Ez, “Hey, I could eat two patties, I could use some fries, and now I’ll get a soft drink too.” The single burger you intended to buy is off in menu Siberia, on the board far to the right, but you’ve already spent more than you intended. A small percentage of the chain’s 47 million customers dropping a few extra bucks each day translates to millions in additional revenue.
  5. Dollar-sign avoidance. Focus groups who’ve been asked to opine on menus display an acute discomfort with dollar signs and decimals. Keeping money as abstract as possible makes spending less threatening. Many high-tone foodie establishments that charge an arm and a leg for, say, a bowl of lentils and groats now omit such crass symbols from their menus — like Spoonriver, a place I like in Minneapolis.
  6. The small plate-large plate conundrum. A restaurant may offer two chicken Caesar salads, one for $9 and one for $12. You may think that you’re getting a break ordering the small one, but, says Ez, that’s really the size they want to sell.
  7. Ingredient embroidery. Foodie-centric restaurants practically list the recipe for each dish making each ingredient sound ultra-special. (An item is more likely to sell if it dwells on the fact that, say, the cheese came from cows at the Brunschwagergrunt Farm in western Wisconsin or that the organic mushrooms were raised by a former duchess with an advanced degree in microbiology.)

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