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16 Sneaky Restaurant Menu Tricks That Tempt You To Spend More

16 Sneaky Restaurant Menu Tricks That Tempt You To Spend More

Just like any other business, restaurants are always trying to sell you more. Without money the restaurant can’t survive and that means they aren’t immune to the same kind of trickery other businesses engage in to make you spend more. Here are some sneaky restaurant menu tricks that try to talk you into spending more money.

1. They use ridiculous adjectives

menu tricks

    Have you ever just looked at the words on a menu? The ice cream is always “sweet and creamy”, buffalo wings may be “tender, juicy, and drenched in a delicious, tangy sauce”, and so on and so forth. Restaurants go through a great deal to make each dish sound as delicious as humanly possible. The reason is fairly obvious. When you’re hungry for ice cream, you imagine that cold, creamy, and sweet treat and your mouth just waters. Restaurants want your mouth to water because it’s money in their pocket.

    2. They don’t use dollar signs

    menu tricks

      Some restaurants do but the staggering majority of restaurant menus do not. When you see dollar signs, you think of money. They don’t want you to think of money. They want you to think of food. The removal of the dollar sign is a slight psychological trick but it’s quite effective. You may be more likely to buy something if you’re not reminded of the fact that it costs you money until after you’ve ordered it rather than before.

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      3. They use number trickery

      Practically everyone knows this one. Restaurants will turn a $10 meal into a $9.99 meal because it makes the same thing seem like a better bargain. Some still will use the $9.95 model to make it even more so. Some restaurant chains (including a very clever Chinese restaurant near where I live) will even use things like $9.85. When people are surfing prices, they’ll see the cheaper stuff and unconsciously want it more. Higher end restaurants don’t typically do this because if you’re going to an expensive place, you know you’re spending money so they don’t try to mess with you too much.

      4. They use family titles to entice customers

      Realistically speaking, which of the following are you more likely to buy? “Grandma’s fresh homemade chocolate cookies” or “chocolate chip cookies”? It’s okay if you said grandma’s cookies because that’s what most people would choose. By connecting the cookies to family by calling them “grandma’s”, restaurants invoke memories of your grandma’s homemade chocolate chip cookies. The resulting nostalgia motivates you to try out those cookies. It’s effective too. Especially in those Ma and Pa diners. Large fast food chains generally can’t get away with stuff like this (although they still try sometimes).

      5. They use ethnic terms to make dishes seem more authentic

      menu tricks

        Enter any Italian restaurant ever and you’ll see dozens of examples of this. Let’s do another word exercise, shall we? Which sounds more authentic? “Shrimp spaghetti” or “Shrimp scampi tagliatelle”? It’s okay if you picked that second one, I would have too. The truth is tagliatelle is actually just the Italian word for “noodles”. Nothing fancy there, just a straight translation via Google Translate. However, by using ethnic language on dishes, it makes the food seem more authentic. For those of us bored with American food, some shrimp scampi tagliatelle sounds amazing even if, word for word, it means “noodles with shrimp doused in butter”.

        6. They use brand names to create product associations

        It sounds complicated but it really isn’t. TGI Fridays uses Jack Daniels BBQ sauce. Fans of whiskey know the Jack Daniels name and are thus more likely to enjoy sauce made from one of their favorite beverages. Buying brand name stuff is “cool” and “hip” and many claim it does taste better than non brand name. It isn’t rocket science. People will simply buy stuff more often if they’ve heard of it before.

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        7. They use anchor items

        menu tricks

          An anchor item is an item that is ridiculously expensive that is set on the menu next to other expensive items to make them seem like a better value. Let’s do a thought exercise. Which is the better deal? A $10 steak or a $20 steak? Okay, so what about a $20 steak and a $30 steak? All of a sudden, the more expensive option in the first scenario becomes the better deal in the second scenario. You put that same $20 and $30 steak next to a $50 steak and all of a sudden $20 doesn’t seem like so much, does it? Restaurants use this tactic to trick you into thinking more expensive items are good deals because they’re placed near an even more expensive item.

          8. They highlight certain items to make them seem special

          Mid-range and low end restaurants do this constantly. You’ll look in the menu and see pictures of particularly tantalizing looking items. Chinese menus will have “chef specials” that are listed separate from all of the other dishes (and they tend to be the most expensive). This is all a ploy to get you to think with your eyes and not your wallet. Upscale restaurants tend not to do things like this because they believe it to be tacky.

          9. They increase the price of the second least expensive wine

          This one is a little hard to describe and requires an explanation. According to Urban Spoon, restaurants will intentionally mark up the second least expensive wine. As Urban Spoon explains, many people are cheap (in this economy, there’s no reason to be ashamed of that) but they don’t want to appear cheap. Thus, they order the second least expensive wine. Restaurants became wise to this and made the second least expensive wine more expensive. It’s still the second least expensive but it’s the worst deal out of any wine on the menu.

          10. They design their menus in a unique way to prevent you from comparing prices

          Not all restaurants do this (most Chinese take out restaurants don’t) but there are still plenty that do. Many restaurants will put their prices down the right side so you can compare prices and get the ones you want. Other restaurants (particularly expensive ones) will put their prices all over the place and use fonts which are difficult to read. This is so you have a harder time comparing prices. They’ll generally align the columns to the center so you have to read through the item descriptions to get to the price which means you’re distracted and more likely to choose an expensive item.

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          11. They use the “right next door” tactic

          We talked earlier about the anchor item that is the most expensive item on the menu. It turns out that part of the menu is pretty important because they employ a second trick there as well. They’ll put the items with the highest profit margins next to the anchor item. That way, when you meander away from the anchor item (because it costs too much), you’ll land on items that look like better deals but will also make the restaurant the most money.

          12. They’ll use useless language to make bland items sound more exotic

          This is one of my favorite ones because it’s simply ridiculous. You know how people saying things like “PIN number” when “PIN” means “personal identification number”? Restaurants will do this, too. They’ll use language like “beet roots”. Beets are roots so the roots part is totally unnecessary. Let’s face it, though, beet roots sound better than just beets.

          13. Restaurants know where you look at the menu and organize it accordingly

          According to studies, people look at the top right of the menu first and the bottom left of the menu last. Thus, many restaurants will put the most expensive stuff (usually the anchor item) in the top right while they put the cheap stuff at the bottom and the left. Generally the cheaper stuff is also in smaller text. That way it’s at the worst part of the menu and it’s harder to read than everything else which draws your attention to the more expensive items.

          14. They use boxes

          This doesn’t seem like a big deal but it can be. Restaurants will often highlight things like high-profit items or more expensive items in decorative boxes to draw your eyes to them. It’s a very simple premise but a very effective one. When you’re just browsing around the menu, chances are that you’ll look at the part with all the decoration and pretty colors than just the plain text parts.

          15. They use vague language to keep their portion sizes a secret

          It’s also commonly referred to as bracketing and you’ve seen this before. When you go into a place and see that you can order a regular salad or a half salad. Or a half sandwich or a full sandwich. You don’t actually know how big those are but you have a general idea. The half sizes are generally marked up to make the full sizes seem like a better deal. Thus, people on a diet spend more while people who order the full think they’re getting a better deal. All without revealing the actual serving size.

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          16. They use the “first in show” tactic

          Our last menu trick is the first in show tactic. Many restaurants organize their menus. You’ll find beef, chicken, appetizer, a la carte, etc sections. Sources have revealed that people are most likely to pick the first choice in those categories. Thus, restaurants will put their most profitable items first. That way, if you’re one of the many that pick the first choice, the restaurant makes the most money of you.

          The important thing to note here is that restaurants have high turnover numbers. People who go out to eat at the nice places tend not to do so very often so restaurants need to figure out a way to make enough money to keep the doors open. So this isn’t something they devised in order to be evil or terrible companies. Let’s face the facts here, grandma’s home made cookies and tender, all-white-meat chicken basted in tangy, spicy sauce sounds delicious, doesn’t it? Being cognizant of the tricks doesn’t mean you have to hate them. You just know they’re there!

          Featured photo credit: McCullagh.org via mccullagh.org

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          Joseph Hindy

          A writer, editor, and YouTuber who likes to share about technology and lifestyle tips.

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          Last Updated on March 4, 2019

          How to Use Credit Cards While Staying Out of Debt

          How to Use Credit Cards While Staying Out of Debt

          Many people will suggest that the best thing to do with your credit cards during these tough economic times is to cut them up with a pair of scissors. Indeed, if you are already in huge debt, you probably should stop using them and begin a payback strategy immediately. However, if you are not currently in trouble with your credit cards, there are wise ways to use them.

          I happen to really love my credit cards so I will share with you my approach to how I use mine without getting into deep financial trouble.

          Ever since about 1983 when I got my first Visa card, I continue to charge as many of my purchases as possible on credit. Everything from gas, groceries and monthly payments for services like my cable and home security monitoring are charged on credit. Despite my heavy usage, I have maintained the joy of never paying any interest fees at all on any of my credit cards.

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          Here are some tips on how best to use your credit cards without falling into the trap of paying those nasty double-digit interest fees.

          Do Not Treat Credit Cards as Your Funding Sources

          Too many people treat their credit cards as funding sources for major purchases. Do not do this if you want to stay out of trouble. I use my credit cards as convenient financial instruments so I do not have to carry around much cash. In fact, I hate carrying cash, especially coins. When you buy things on credit, the purchases are clean and you will not get annoying coins back as change.

          I do not rely on my Visa, MasterCard or American Express to fund any of my purchases, large or small. This brings me to my golden rule when it comes to whether I will pull out any of my credit cards either at a retail or online store.

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          I never purchase anything with my credit cards if I do not have the actual cash on hand in my bank account.

          If I really cannot pay for the item or service with cash that I already have at the bank, then I simply will not make the purchase. Remember, my credit cards are not used as funding sources. They are just convenient alternatives to actual cash in my pocket.

          Make Sure to Always Pay Off Balances in Full Each Month

          The next very important part of my overall strategy is to make absolutely sure that I pay the balances in full each and every month no matter how large they are. This should never be a problem if the cash has been budgeted for my purchases and secured in the bank. I have always paid my full balances each month ever since my very first credit card and this is why I never pay interest charges.

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          Using Credit Cards with Rewards

          Most of my credit cards are of the “no annual fees” type, including one MasterCard on a separate account I keep at home as a spare in case I lose my wallet or incur any fraudulent charges. However, I do use a main Visa card which does have an annual fee because all purchases on that card reward me with airline frequent flyer points. For me, the annual fee is worth it since I do travel and I get enough points to redeem many free flights.

          You have to decide for yourself if you will charge enough purchases on credit each year without paying interest charges to warrant a credit card that rewards you with airline points (or other rewards). In my case, the answer is “yes” but that might not be the case for you.

          I occasionally use a MasterCard or American Express card on small purchases just to keep those accounts active. Also, I have been to the odd retailer that accepted only a certain type of credit card, so I find that having one from each major company is quite handy. Aside from my main Visa card which earns the airline points, the rest of my cards are of the “no annual fees” variety.

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          So this is how I use my credit cards without getting into any financial trouble with them. This strategy is recommended only if you are not in debt, of course. In fact, it is worth keeping in mind once you’re out of debt so that you can keep your credit cards active and treat them responsibly.

          What are your credit card usage strategies? Let me know in the comments — I’d love to hear what methods you use.

          Featured photo credit: Artem Bali via unsplash.com

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