You might think you’re going with your gut when you order, but it turns out menus do a whole lot more than just tell us what’s available. Once a menu is in a diner’s hands, “it can directly influence not only what they will order, but ultimately how much they will spend,” a member of the Restaurant Resource Group told the Baltimore Sun. So how do savvy restaurateurs gently massage you into ordering high-margin, low-effort menu items? For starters, they drop the dollar sign: according to a study by the Cornell University School of Hospitality Research, diners spend more money when prices are listed without a currency indicator, possibly because it’s easier to dissociate a context-free numeral from the cash in your wallet. A canny restaurant will also list the items they most want to sell on the center of the inside right page, in the top two or one bottom item in a category list, or in a section highlighted by colors or font changes. So which Chicago restaurants indulge in a little menu manipulation?
Once you start looking for manipulative menus, it’s hard to stop seeing them. The single-page layout at Hub 51 may look casual and breezy, but every single dish designated as “great to share” is on the Siberia of the left side, while the focal point of the center-right is “Two-Handed Sandwiches” like meatloaf, chili, and a BLT — all made with inexpensive ingredients that don’t require too much effort in the kitchen. Or the menu at Harry Caray’s, where the center-right is devoted to pasta — notorioius for being a classic highest-margin item — and the top center is devoted to “Steaks and Chops,” which at about $35 for most cuts are the menu’s priciest items. At David Burke’s Primehouse, boxes call attention to the menu’s most expensive items (Seafood Towers, $39-$72, and Reserve Cuts, $49-$69), and the high-margin side dishes (sold to you for $8, but probably pennies to prepare).
Retail psychology of menus: the best advertising ever [Baltimore Sun]