The average family now spends over $3,000 a year eating out. Eating out is both fun and convenient, so how can you save money eating out when the restaurants have gamed their menus to get you to spend more?
Eating out is an indulgence for you. But to restaurants, it is business as usual. After all, every diner is just another transaction. Restaurants are geared towards making a profit. The more profit it’s making, the better for the owner.
In their bid to make more money and make themselves more popular, restaurants have come up with some sneaky tricks to make you spend more than you normally would. From the top of the range menus, amazing etiquette to classy ambiances, restaurant menu makers, and consultants have a way of creating an image that you’ve probably bought into.
The things they come up with are not rocket science. They are pretty basic stuff only that we don’t really take the time to think about them.
The good news is the days of being fooled to spending more are finally over! We have put together common tricks restaurants use to make customers spend more and the tips to help you avoid them. If you keep these tips in mind, you will eat great meals in restaurants and never spend a dime more. And be sure to check out our other tips on how to save money eating out.
1. They use overly descriptive language
The use of flowery language on the menu makes dishes appear more tantalizing. Who wouldn’t be enticed by words like hand-selected, golden brown, triple-blasted, handcrafted, slow-cooked, among others? Not me!
According to research conducted by Cornell University, menu items described in a flowery language tend to be more popular and alluring to the customers.
A further study conducted by the University of Illinois revealed that extremely descriptive menu labels increased sales by 27 percent.
Using brand names when describing menu items also increases sales, and that is why chain restaurants like T.G.I. Friday’s have Minute Maid orange juice and Jack Daniel’s sauce on their menus.
Also, customers get drawn to items described with names of relatives as they arouse trust and nostalgia. So, menu items like Aunt Jenna’s famous potato salad or Grandma’s homemade cookies are common in menus.
Tip: Always concentrate on the actual qualities described in the dish and disregard the flowery language. Tangibles can include ingredients, cooking method, flavor, etc.
2. They intentionally leave out the dollar ($) sign
A dollar sign on the menu is bad for business because it instantaneously reminds you that you are spending money. Once you realize that you are spending cash, you will pay more attention and base your decisions on the cost of each item.
But the restaurants want you to focus on the dining experience rather than the cost and that is why they will conveniently leave out the dollar sign on the prices.
A study carried out by Cornell University School of Hotel Administration found out that customers given menus with a dollar sign spent considerably less than guests who were given menus without dollar signs.
Tip: Always set your budget ceiling even before you withdraw money to go out for a meal.
3. They visually highlight items with higher profits
Menu engineers are quite a shrewd lot.
These guys know that if they write some dishes in bold, use a colored fancier font, or put them in a box, your eyes will be lured to these items first as they seem more special than others.
What you don’t know is this is a conspiracy to make you spend more because what you think is special, is really what is expensive.
Tip: Always go through the listed items before you even glance at the “specials“.
4. They offer dishes in two portion sizes
Bracketing is a strategy used by most restaurants whereby they offer foods in two sizes – half and full. The ‘half’ portion is priced higher compared to its size, which makes the ‘full’ portion appear like a great bargain.
The customer, obviously with no knowledge of how big the ‘full’ version is, will order the full size assuming that it offers them the best value for money. What the customer doesn’t understand is the restaurant plan is to sell the ‘full’ portion, and that is why they put the unreasonably priced ‘half’ portion on the menu so that you can use it as a comparison.
Tip: How full is that ‘full’ portion? Request the waiter to show you somebody else who is eating the same dish.
5. They include extremely expensive items on the menu to lure you to cheaper dishes
Menu engineers can play with our psychology.
Restaurants include unreasonably priced items (like three-digit dishes) on the menu to act as decoys. The main reason for these expensive dishes is simple; to make everything else on the menu look cheaper and therefore something of a bargain. This is according to Greg Rapp, an expert menu engineer.
William Poundstone, the author of “Priceless: The Myth of Fair Value (and How to Take Advantage of It) also supported this view during an interview with New York Magazine.
Tip: Keep away from all the expensive items intelligently displayed near the very expensive meals.
6. They hide items that offer value for money in the bottom left-hand area of the menu
Restaurants have analyzed the reading patterns of customers. They place their most profitable dishes in the upper right-hand area of the menu mainly because that is where the eyes of guests will go first.
A Korean study has revealed that at least 33% of customers are more likely to order the first item that attracts their attention.
Most customers, having started reading from the upper right-hand corner, tend to overlook the bottom left area and that is where menu designers place items that give the restaurant little profit.
Tip: When carefully reading the menu, always start with the bottom left corner.
7. They entice you to spend more by setting a great ambiance
Restaurants tempt you to spend more by playing you soothing classical music as you dine.
Research by the University of Leicester has revealed that guests are persuaded to spend more when you play them classical music as it makes them feel wealthier.
Tip: If you find a restaurant playing classical music, try to make a decision on what to order using the display menu outside.
8. They set the buffet so that it begins with low-cost foods.
Why do most buffets start with bread and salad?
A salad buffet is meant to make you fill your plate with low-cost food items so that by the time you reach the costly meat counter, your plate has no space to stuff these! You will end up consuming a very cheap meal while having paid a lot more.
Tip: To ensure you get the best value for your money, always start with the costlier items like meat first.
Eating out once in a while is a good thing. Keep these tips in your mind before entering any restaurant, and you will keep more of your hard-earned money.