When you look over a restaurant menu, do you choose your favorite food or something you’ve never eaten before?
Simple question, right? Maybe not. It turns out the menu you’re perusing is more than just a menu. It’s a salesman, embodying subtle suggestions to steer you to the items the restaurant wants you to buy—the ones that increase the bottom line. The defining phrase for this practice is menu engineering, a concept with roots in the early seventies, though it’s likely restaurants were well versed in this marketing technique long before then.
Menu engineering includes a hint of marketing, a pinch of colorful graphics, and a dash of psychology. For example, as a customer, what do you remember best when handed a list of options? If you’re like most people, you answered, “the items at the beginning and at the end.” Selections in the first and last areas of the menu are usually high-priced, and the least expensive for the restaurant to prepare. Of course, you may not notice the price since in some cases the dollar sign has been eliminated—another psychological ploy.
Visual graphics, such as font size, color, shading, framing, and readability, also play an important part in menu engineering. And let’s not forget word appeal. “Irresistible”, “Savory”, “Hand-Battered”, “Heart-Healthy”, and “Delectable” all make foods sound tempting.
Here’s a tip to remember the next time a waiter hands you a menu: Ignore the psychology, and go for what you really want to eat.