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Casinos, grocery stores, and shopping malls are no longer the consumer outlets that are trying to use psychology to make consumers stay longer and buy more merchandise. Now restaurants have gotten in on the action, going to great lengths in order to use consumer psychology, menu engineering, and behavioral tricks to help separate us from more of our hard earned money.
Whether it’s the setting at the restaurant or the layout of the menu, restaurants have been hard at work trying to understand what makes people spend more money on each visit. Understanding how consumer psychology plays a part in our shopping decisions can help you save money while eating at a restaurant.
Menu design and spending
No dollar signs on menus. There are very few dollar signs on menus in a restaurant. This is especially true for national chain restaurants. Using casino chips instead of real dollars makes you less cognizant of how much time you are actually spending at the casino. The same is true for the lack of dollar signs on the menu next to the items’ prices. Dollar signs can make you aware of how much these items are truly costing you. Leaving the dollar signs and often times even the decimal and cents off the restaurant menus help keep the prices more abstract and seem less threatening.
Descriptive names. The names of products on the menu also matter to consumers. Have you ever noticed patriotic or funny names for food on the menu? According to a Cornell University study, people are 27% more likely to purchase an item from a restaurant’s menu that has a descriptive or creative name than one with a more normal name. The study also found that restaurants typically charge a premium of 10% or more for these items.
Prices are staggered. Have you ever noticed that the price of items on a restaurant’s menu is often staggered as you look down the page? This menu trick is done on purpose by the folks who practice menu engineering. Restaurant owners don’t want to you to be able to simply look straight down the page and easily compare prices from one item to the next. Staggering the items breaks up the flow of your eyes as you look down the page.
Boxing money makers. The location on a restaurant’s menu for specific items can be a big influence on how often patrons will purchase an item. Restaurants tend to put their most profitable item in the upper right hand corner of the menu where our eyes have a natural tendency to be drawn to first. A box on the menu screams for our attention, as well. You will often see high profit margin items being called out in a box on the menu as well.
Restaurant setting and spending
Background music. The level of music that a store plays over its loudspeakers and how that affects customers’ shopping habits has been studied for decades. Reserch has shown that when slower music is played in grocery stores and restaurants, customers spend more time and money there. One study from Loyola University estimated that restaurants and stores which play slow music see a 38% increase in sales over stores that choose to play loud or fast paced music. Restaurants tend to see longer wait times at tables and higher bills when slower music is played.
Size of your drinking glass. According to studies conducted by the Food and Brand Lab at Cornell University, people consume a larger amount of a drink when they are given a short, wide glass instead of a tall, narrow glass. We have a vertical bias over horizontal objects which explain our tendency to focus on an object’s height. So, the illusion in a restaurant is that you receive more of a beverage when it is served in a tall glass. Bartenders have also been found to pour more than the set limit of drinks in a short, wide glass.
Size of your plate. When restaurants offer two sizes of the same item, they often want you to purchase the smaller one contrary to typical thoughts. For example, many restaurants may hope that you purchase two small salads that costs $9 each instead of buying a large salad that costs $12 and splitting it between two people. The cost of extra ingredients for the larger salad is negligible, and the extra money spent on the wrong size item is pure profit for the restaurant though.
Take home lessons
So, what does this mean for you, the average consumer, who is trying to save his or her hard earned money? Like G.I. Joe used to during the Saturday morning cartoons, “Knowing is half the battle.” Now you know a few things to look for when you enter a restaurant. Simply walking into a restaurant and ordering without giving much thought is a recipe that could cost you a lot of money in the long run.
Now it’s up to you to use that knowledge and not to be fooled by simple psychological tricks that are designed to separate you from your money. By understanding a little of the consumer psychology used against you, you can be a much better shopper who enjoys a night out while still saving money.
Do you think that simple things such as leaving the dollar sign off a menu or staggering the prices make you spend more at a restaurant? What other psychological and behavioral tricks have you seen retailers use against consumers?
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