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How Restaurant Menus are Tricking You…

…and what retailers can learn from blog-01Take a good long look at the menu of your favorite sit down restaurant and you may be surprised. The psychology of a restaurant menu is designed to get you to order the most expensive items. But not Le Dinner, you say. Yes, even that local place you love. Don’t believe us? Read on to find out how menus are designed and what retailers can learn from them.

Which do you choose: “Smoked Gouda Mornay, Fresh Rigatoni Pasta, Garlic Panko with Crispy Onion” or “Macaroni and Cheese”? Which do you pay more for?  The words we use to describe food – or home and gift items—have a profound psychological impact on our perceived value of them. Another example: if you want someone to pay $5 for the bread basket that is complimentary at other restaurants, you better call it “Housemade Artisanal Bread |extra virgin olive oil, housemade cultured butter”.

As a retailer: Be conscious of how you talk about your products. Your descriptions can set the tone for their value in the eyes of the shopper.  

Do you know what the most commonly ordered bottle of wine at a restaurant is? The second most expensive bottle. Presumably because people don’t want to be considered cheap, they want to feel like they are getting something nice, but they also don’t want to pay an arm and a leg for their beverage. Restaurants know this so they strategically offer choices that steer people to that bottle.

As a retailer: You can also offer shoppers a range of choices making the items you prefer them to purchase the most appealing.

When ordering, most of us take the cost of the item into account and mentally calculate the value of that item against the other items on the menu. Restaurants take advantage of this in several ways. First, they often put the most expensive items first to set a baseline, then they put the least expensive item last (hoping you’ll make a selection before you get down to it). Items in the middle of the menu are mixed up in regard to pricing. Additionally, you’ll see a lack of $ signs and often the costs will be centered so they don’t all line up (see example below). This makes it hard to scan the menu to see the prices all at once.

As a retailer: Consider more high-end price tags (even handwritten if you’ve got nice penmanship) that just have the dollar amount, with no dollar sign. Also, consider mixing in more expensive items with moderately priced ones.

menu detail

The next time you’re at a restaurant, consider how the descriptions, order of items and pricing impact your selections. Take that insight back to your store and use it to your advantage to guide shoppers to the products you want them to buy; and to create more perceived value for your products.

Do you feel like there is a psychology to menus? Are there areas we missed? Can you see a crossover into retail? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.


Melrose International is an industry leader in wholesale home décor, giftware, and seasonal items. Providing outstanding products, service, design, and value since 1985!

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