Are You Being Manipulated by a Menu?

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Balthazar's menu is a lesson in good salesmanship.

How much can restaurants influence what we order? Menus are written with appetizing adjectives like “roasted” or “marinated” (“fried” should be avoided); highlight dishes with different fonts, colors, and pictures; move items to the center right of our line of sight; and drop dollar signs from prices, all in an effort to make higher profits, according to a recent Baltimore Sun blog post. As an educated diner, it’s hard to imagine being tricked into buying a dish you don’t want, but the conventions turned up in menus from many of our favorite restaurants. Check out our list to see who follows the rules.

Balthazar
Menu [PDF]
Evidence: No dollar signs. Giant picture highlights pricey shellfish platters. The most expensive dish — steak au poivre for $38 — is at center right.

Cozy Soup 'n Burger
Menu [PDF]
Evidence: No dollar signs. Plenty of pictures, stars, and colors highlighting menu sections. The most expensive items on the page —Tasty Wraps for $14.50 — have a picture and fall in the center-right of the page. Plus the beef and chicken options for wraps are “marinated.”

La Esquina
Menu [PDF]
Evidence: No dollar signs. Pictures draw attention to the expensive main courses, which are also positioned center-right. Avoids saying fried potatoes by calling a side dish “papas fritas.”

Apiary
Menu [PDF]
Evidence: No dollar signs. Bees buzz around the $35 prix fixe menu. New executive chef Scott Bryan is highlighted in red. Entrées like roasted organic chicken and Berkshire pork are on the center right of the page.

Veloce Pizzeria
Menu [PDF]
Evidence: No dollar signs. The pizza is the main event in a central box.

Public Fare
Menu [PDF]
Evidence: No dollar signs. Uses the term "roasted" for a tomato sandwich. Headers for food colored blue and typed in caps.
Needs to Improve: The story of the restaurant could be switched from the far right to the left so that dishes would display front and center.

Butcher Bay
Menu [PDF]
Evidence: No price signs.
Needs to Improve: “Fried,” “fries,” and “fritters” show up four times on the menu. The cheapest entrée — BBQ tofu for $14 — is center right.

Hotel Griffou
Menu [PDF]
Evidence: Most expensive dishes — Steak Diane, $38; and stuffed lobster tails, $42 — fall in the center.
Needs to Improve: Drop the dollar signs.

Bar Artisanal
Evidence: Funny fonts highlight sections of the menu. Burger names are capped.
Needs to Improve: Expensive Plats Principaux could be made more central or have a picture.

Sorella
Menu [PDF]
Evidence: Pretty fonts and designs highlight the small plates. Nightly two-course menu has its own font.
Needs to Improve: They waste a designed box and central-right location on cheap contorni.

Retail psychology of menus: the best advertising ever [Baltimore Sun via Big Money]