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Menu Magic: How Restaurants Encourage Us To Spend More

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Tricks of menu engineers explained.

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With as many terrible typos and grammatical errors found on most menus, one would assume that they're an afterthought for restaurants. But menus are the first thing people look at when trying to decide where to dine, and even if a couple of misspelled words don't deter them, confusing layout or a lack of enticing entrée descriptions just might.

That's why savvy restaurant owners consult professional menu engineers for advice about menu design. These experts work their magic to make sure potential customers stick around for dinner -- and that they order certain dishes and spend more money while doing so.

Menu Engineering 101

The National Restaurant Association estimates that a well-designed menu can increase sales by anywhere from 2% to 10%. It's amazing just how much of a difference is made by a trained engineer reworking a menu.

On a recent Today show segment, an experiment was conducted that pitted two menus against each other -- one designed by a menu engineer and the other characterized by what such engineers consider to be mistakes. Both menus had the same prices and offered the same meals, but people who ordered from the specially designed one spent about 15% more on their dinners.

The menu engineer interviewed on the show was Gregg Rapp, a man with more than 25 years of experience in the restaurant industry. According to him, even something as simple as food descriptions with carefully chosen adjectives can increase sales as much as 30%. Rapp's experience has taught him the psychology of menu -- what drives people toward particular dishes, the power of placement, and how to keep their minds off prices.

Techniques of the Trade

When we go out to eat, we believe the only things affecting our dining choices are appetite and our own preferences. But menu engineers like Rapp have several tricks up their sleeves to manipulate customers, even to the extent of ordering one entrée over another.

Navigating Menu Real Estate


There are certain areas on a menu that customers' eyes are naturally drawn to -- this is where owners put dishes that they want ordered. In a four-page menu, that area is the upper right hand side, near the center of the page.

Also, in a list of selections, people are more likely to remember the first couple and the last one, so selections put there are in favorable positions.

The back page of menus is where cheaper, unremarkable products are placed. Rapp likens this placement to the way milk and staple items are often put at the back of supermarkets -- it increases the chance those less important items will get sidelined by expensive, impulse-friendly items first.

Menu
  • Courtesy of Divine Caroline

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