10 Tactics Restaurants Use to Get Customers to Spend More

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Restaurants are no longer trying to win diners' hearts only through their stomachs, but also through their unconscious minds. Consumer psychology has become one of the biggest marketing tools at consumer outlets, and restaurants are no exceptions. Having become better acquainted with consumer psychology, restaurant tactics are psychologically manipulating their customers to spend more through menu engineering and behavioral tricks.

For example, the menu is not only about simply presenting the dining options to hungry customers, as it is a method to psychologically manipulate you. Menu design is thought-out carefully by the restaurateur, with the goal to make the more profitable high-margin items on the menu appear more attractive, which would help increase sales for the restaurant.

To prevent overspending, this slideshow compiles 10 of the biggest schemes that you should look out for the next time you eat out. Once you become armed with this knowledge, you can protect yourself from falling into the restaurant's traps-no matter how clever they may be. Good luck!

1. Color-Induced Atmosphere
It is expected that going to a restaurant will be a sensory experience. Specific colors presented to the customer at the restaurant is found to be highly influential in affecting a person's mind when making decisions.

For example, it is found that the color red evokes hunger, while orange does the same, in addition to making customers feel welcomed and comfortable. Yellow is shown to trigger a release of serotonin, which is a "happy hormone" when exposed to it. This is significant because people tend to eat more when they feel happy. Happiness also means that they are feeling optimistic, which increases their likelihood of splurging on the meal with expensive wine or dessert.

2. Music to My Subconcious Mind
Music help set the mood, but that's not all it does at a restaurant. According to a study from Loyola University, restaurants experienced longer wait times at tables and charged higher bills when slow music was playing, compared to fast music. The restaurants reported an increase of 38 percent in gross sales. Another study showed that classical music motivates consumers to make more extravagant purchases.

3. Location Location Location
Menus do not simply list dining options to the customers indiscriminately. Menus are engineered to steer diners into buying high-margin items with the goal to increase profit.

A study found that first item on the menu usually does the best, therefore the most profitable item will often appear at the very top of the page. Other prime real estate on the menu is the top right section of the front page, where the eyes are found to be initially drawn to when diners open the menu. Beware! Items at these locations tend to be overpriced.

4. What You Notice is What You Get
Although a bit insulting to the subconscious mind due to its lack of subtlety, restaurants have other tactics they use to get you to notice certain  item on the menu. Placing specials in a box or an area with extra white space, or underlining them, will make the items stand out more, and will naturally draw our eyes to it first.

5. Primed to Spend
With this knowledge in hand, the menu design is meticulously planned to their advantage. It is found that diners usually do not go for the most expensive or inexpensive item on the menu, therefore, restaurants will sometimes display an overpriced decoy located near the top next to the less expensive ones.

This persuades the customers into thinking they are getting a better value by going for the higher-margin items, which is what the restaurants want you to think. This manipulation makes more money for the restaurant while making the customers feel good about their purchases.

6. Staggering Prices Leads to Staggering Bills
Ever notice that the the menu items are never listed in ascending order in terms of price? By staggering the prices of items on the menu, it is more difficult for customers to compare the prices of the dishes. Restaurants want you to read over the description of the items without being biased by their costs, hoping that you'll fall in love with an expensive dish, which bring us to our next restaurant ploy.

7. Getting Full Off Adjectives
Restaurants will also make the profitable items more attractive to the diner by attaching elaborate adjectives, descriptions, and special names to it. This gives the items unique characteristics, which result in product differentiation, which adds perceived value in the minds of the customers.

In one study, it was found that descriptive menu labels increased sales by as much as 27 percent. These extra words make a dish seem more exclusive and enticing to customers, increasing its value in their minds, which translates to their willingness to pay more for these items.

8. Simplicity is the Ultimate Sophistication
According to a study in the Cornell Hospitality Report, it was found that diners spend more when the price on the menu was listed without the dollar sign in front of it. People associate the dollar sign with the idea of cost rather than gain, therefore seeing the dollar sign on the menu becomes a reminder of how much these items are costing you and how much money is leaving your pocket.

Also, in the absence of the dollar sign and decimals, the numbers become more abstract and less threatening, which muddles their judgment about its monetary value. Sometimes, the dollar sign is omitted because it looks tacky, therefore making the item lose perceived value, which should be avoided at all costs -- especially at high-end restaurants.

9. It's So Small, It's Nothing
Another trick that restaurants use is listing the price in a smaller font size.  Humans have a psychological bias in making a direct correlation between the physical size to its numerical size. This means that 10 written in a smaller font will appear to also be smaller in numerical value than 10 written in a bigger font size.

A study from Clark University and The University of Connecticut found that consumers perceive that the price was better in value when it was written in a small font rather than a large, bold typeface.

10. Size of Drinking Glass
Many restaurants make a bulk of their money, not through the food items, but from the overpriced drinks that you have along with your meal. Restaurants work to maximize the number of high-margin drinks that you consume by serving them in short and wide glass, rather than tall and narrow ones.

This is due to human's vertical bias over horizontal objects, which makes people focus more on the object's height. This psychological flaw is exploited by the restaurants by serving you drinks in short and wide cups to make you feel like you didn't drink that much.

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This article originally appeared on MyBankTracker.com.


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Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On November 17, 2013, at 2:58 PM, skyebo wrote:

    Hostesses in restaurants with bars also state a wait time in the 20-30 minute range and suggest diners get a cocktail while waiting. Athough we may have only intended to have wine with dinner, we fall for it to pass the time, buy the drinks and -- immediately after purchase -- the table is amazingly ready.

  • Report this Comment On November 17, 2013, at 4:44 PM, bocacassidy wrote:

    In even more ways not cited in this article , most American restaurants are a total rip off ..After a lifetime in Europe , I am astounded at the abuse tolerated by millions of gullible Americans ....Overpriced , substandard, assembly line food served to a clientele that is being hosed by flim flam food factories for fare that marginally exceeds count jail quality , in a cattle car environment ... Typically , the relatively ignorant waiter places a menu on the table , takes an order then brings the bill to rush you out the door...With taxes and other gimmicks added you will pay far more than expected ...and don't forget to leave at least a 20%tip for this nonsense .. Drink prices are very often not listed .....The only cure for this outrage will never happen in this ship of fools : a total national boycott of these establishments.

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