Using Menu Psychology to Entice Diners (by the NYT)

I came across this very interesting article on the New York Times today. The article is a bit longish but it describes how the combination of prices, adjectives, fonts, type sizes, ink colors and placement on the page can coax diners into spending a little more money.


Quoting the article:

Some restaurants use what researchers call decoys. For example, they may place a really expensive item at the top of the menu, so that other dishes look more reasonably priced; research shows that diners tend to order neither the most nor least expensive items, drifting toward the middle. Or restaurants might play up a profitable dish by using more appetizing adjectives and placing it next to a less profitable dish with less description so the contrast entices the diner to order the profitable dish.

In another section of the article it also pointed out:

A study published by researchers at Cornell found that when the prices were given with dollar signs, customers spent less than when no dollar signs appeared. The study also found that customers spent significantly more when the price was … listed in numerals without dollar signs, as in “14.00” or “14,” than when it included the word “dollar,” as in “Fourteen dollars.” Apparently even the word “dollar” can trigger what is known as “the pain of paying.”

He also says that if a restaurant wants to use prices that include cents, like $9.99 or $9.95 (without the dollar sign, of course), he strongly recommends .95, which he said “is a friendlier price,” whereas .99 is “cornier.” On the other hand, 10, or “10 dollars,” has attitude, which is what restaurants using those price formats are selling.

That reminded me the first time I read Cactus Club’s menu, it really jumped at me that they did not have the $-sign on the menu and the price are straight integer numbers without cents.

Click here for the full article. Very interesting read. Enjoy!

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  1. etranger

    Interesting article. Gives you some defense against being manipulated, but I suppose the manipulation will work anyway. Haven’t you said you always order the “House Special”?

    I think sometimes at home I need to have a flowery description of dinner so everyone does not think it is second-rate to eating out!

  2. Quinn

    Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you and your family Ben and Suanne!

  3. Charlie

    My guess about the countdown is that something special will be happening here Jan 15 2010

    1. Ben

      Smart, Charlie.
      The question next is … What?
      “You will never guess!” 🙂

  4. Charlie

    Ahhhh yes the date was easy but all I could possibly guess is that you are opening your own restaurant? We’ll all be there with bells on!!

    1. Ben

      Hi Charlie:
      The project is still a top secret now. Lots of work and long hours. We are barely able to keep to the schedule. Find out in about 1,900,000 seconds.
      Will you really be there if it is our own restaurant? LOL!

  5. LotusRapper

    I find myself analyzing menus often while in restaurants. One thing for sure, there are lots of well-thought out menus, yet even more poor menus with no regards to presentation, legibility, etc, etc. It’s one aspect of a restaurant business that indicates to the diners whether an establishment has given thought down to the last detail, or not.

    Personally I find the prices’ “$x.99” so incredibly silly. But like all other forms of advertising and marketing, it obviously must work with certain segments of consumers. But for me, why not just print “$12” instead of “$11.99” ? This is where most new restaurants, esp. those specializing in tapas, shine in terms of menu presentation.

    I went to eat at Menya Noodles tonight (it was quite good but I won’t go into details here). The menu consisted of maybe 6 items of noodles. I liked that. Concise, simple, doesn’t require 10-15 mins of (in-)decision.

    Many Asian menus with their combinations that require the diner to choose from different lists for each and every portion (A, B, C …) of the combo are plain silly. I suggest they pre-set the combinations than forcing the customer to pick & choose from umpteen possibilities and permutations.

    I like the fresh sheet idea. Restaurants that have the current date (or week) printed on top of the menu are highly appealing to me. It suggests their emphasis on ingredients freshness (ie: in-season), variety, creativity and even a sense of mystery. Tomato Fresh Cafe, Aux Petite Chavignol and Pied-a-Terre are just three places I can think of that does this. Bravo.

    Thanks for the NYT article, Ben. Very interesting read indeed 🙂

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