HOME > Chowhound > Food Media & News >


7 Ways Menus Make You Spend

  • r


Interesting article. I fit one/some of these scenarios :-))

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. Ha. When we're talking about what to order, my boyfriend, upon hearing what I've decided on, frequently says to me, "What? Where's that? I didn't see that dish on there."

    I will confess to usually wanting to try a 'signature dish'.

    1. that link is broken.

      My pet peeve is servers who rattle off the specials with full detail EXCEPT for the price. Generally the specials are several dollars more expensive than the printed menu items.

      Make 'em tell you how much each offering costs up front!

      1. Nice find. Link worked for me BTW.

        4 Replies
        1. re: chris2269

          Loved this article. I've been suspecting these rip off tactics for years with increasingly low cost ingredients (sweetbreads, organ meats, etc.) that are touted as "sophisticated and edgy," but really represent healthy profits for the restauranteur. Feel similarly about small plates too.

          Flame me if you must, but I've often wondered how many people really eat these more "creative" dishes. A friend-of-a-friend who owns the most upscale, popular Italian restaurant in my city confessed that the menu item he sells most of is the more mundane Spaghetti Lobster.

          1. re: 60s Girl

            Not a flame towards you at all but I love Sweetbreads, lamb fries, duck heart, whatever ...not because of the edge factor just because IMO they are great and its something I'm not going to cook at home.

            1. re: 60s Girl

              I'm with Chris2269, I love organ meats, sweet breads, etc. But i can't easily prepare those at home and the way they're presented in a restaurant. I'm happy to see those on a menu.

              I love small plates too since I like able to try a bunch of different dishes, rather than having one big entree. I'm not sure what relevance your anecdote about the spaghetti has. So a second hand info that a seafood pasta at a Italian restaurant is the most popular dish is hardly proof that no one orders those other dishes. In fact I've heard time and again that restaurants love putting on simple pasta dishes on the menu since that has the biggest profit margin.

              1. re: 60s Girl

                I'm with the others regarding the offal. I can cook a steak at home as well as most restaurants, but I wouldn't trust my skills as much with something more unusual like sweetbreads or testicles. Even if the dish cost less for ingredients, I'd be willing to pay more at a restaurant for an amazing preparation of it.

            2. It's all marketing. For example, most people won't want to eat dishes made of of leftover beef or pig scraps. But if you repackage them as hamburgers or sausages, it's a different story.

              1 Reply
              1. re: raytamsgv

                Half of a restaurant menu is repackaged stuff! Soups, especially, fried rice -- anything that you can't tell how fresh the stuff inside is.

              2. #6-The Small Plate-Large Plate Conundrum; definately my weak link. Salads, apps, desserts that come in two sizes...I know I'm out smarted no matter what I select....so it better be super delicious!

                Not on the list-ordering a glass of wine not a bottle with the meal. What constitutes a glass (the amount of wine in the glass) sure varies alot....but not necessarily based on the type of wine ordered.

                1. Thank you Rella, I'm looking forward to seeing the menu with new eyes. :)

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: eatswjoy

                    Evidently I didn't heed any admonition. I was disappointed in what I must've read into a menu yesterday. I did not expect to be served my "stuffed pasta" "Seafood cannelloni" in a a gratin dish that was extra piping hot and looked as it had come out of an oven, and appeared to have mashed potatoes as a filler; and looked liked what could be any other gratin dish of Italian bake.

                  2. 4, 6, and 7 often get me.

                    #2 doesn't work on me. Not only that, but it's the opposite for me. If I'm in a restaurant for the first time, I often order something that's very familiar and an item I think is the most difficult to craft (to test the kitchen).

                    1. I love this kind of stuff.
                      Similar to this

                      Duke economics professor Dan Ariely writes in his book "Predictably Irrational" (great read, by the way) that restaurants can often persuade diners to order certain higher-profit dishes by putting even more expensively-priced dishes on the menu. The high-profit target dish seems something of a bargain by comparison, so diners feel more comfortable ordering it, allowing the restaurant to bring in more revenue even if they don't sell a single order of the highest-priced dish.


                      Elsewhere, Ariely points out that for dishes like pizza with lots of potential add-ons, customers will tend to spend more if the first option listed on the menu is a "the works" kind of pizza, with many toppings pre-selected, as opposed to a plain pizza for which customers can select additional toppings. (He's even shown in a study that similar psychology seems to operate among doctors choosing management options in patient care.

                      1. the teaser for this article kept popping up on my Yahoo mail page so i finally read it yesterday, and i was disappointed because none of them apply to/work on me, so i didn't pick up any new tips for saving money!

                        i agree with ChefJune re: specials - i can't stand it when a server makes you *ask* the price if you want to know - it feels so uncouth somehow.

                        and HillJ makes a great point about wine by the glass - HUGELY profitable for the restaurant...i always get frustrated when sharing a bottle with my dining companion(s) isn't an option, because i can't really handle more than one glass and i *know* how much extra $$ the restaurant is making off me by ordering that way.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                          When a server "takes the time" to rattle off all of the specials without the price, I usually ask them what the price is of each one after they've given the speech; , and they go back and re-rattle all the items WITH prices again one by one. Often, to save time, to keep from naming them all again they will ask first, what item were you interested in, and usually I can't remember.

                          But in reality, many times I do order one of the specialty of the day, but I like to compare it to the menu, if listed on the menu. Usually not because it's something like, "Catch of the Day - Market price."

                          It's hard to make a decision on specials based on hearing it once at top audio speed.

                        2. I find some of the reactions a little puzzling, people saying they feel "fleeced" and "ripped off" by what seem to me to be fairly innocuous marketing tactics. Of course the restaurant wants to make money; there's nothing dishonest about trying to get customers to notice the most profitable dishes, is there?

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: LiaM

                            Don't misunderstand my comments. Information like the article linked above highlight the tools of the trade some business owners use. Just as many articles are written for customers to save money, shop wisely and make informed purchases. There is nothing dishonest about either perspective as long as the transaction btwn both parties is clear. There is nothing much I can do to court marketing tactics except elect where to spend my money or decide after the first experience I wish to return.

                          2. The following menu description is taken directly from the "fancy-schmancy" place the author cites. Please note that even "fancy-schmancy" restaurants need a proofreader. "breadcrums" indeed! This is a complete buzzkill for me. If the restaurant doesn't care about their written menu, I distrust their attention in the kitchen as well. This may well be another CIA honors essay "Ways Menus Keep the Customers' Money in their Wallet".

                            Kettle Macaroni and Cheese $12

                            farmstead cheddar, cured pork belly, breadcrums

                            Here's another one:

                            Rutabega Apple Beet Slaw $7

                            local apples, riesling vinegar, chives

                            1. Old thread, I know, but I noticed something interesting the other day. We were at an arena event a while back. We went out to get something to eat between sessions. The main bar/restaurant was full so we went into what is the patio area in the warm months, now temporarily enclosed. They had a modified/shortened menu. I
                              was not too hungry and looked for an appetizer that interested me. The apps were about the same price as the other options on the menu. The signature item was a turkey dinner with stuffing, mashed potatoes, and gravy. I had a burger and fries instead. I did not finish the 1/2 lb. burger.