Savvy consumers may already know how supermarkets such as Kroger (NYSE:KR) and Safeway (NYSE:SWY) lay out their stores to make sure you leave with the fullest cart and the highest bill possible. But you might not realize that restaurants -- and stocks -- can play similar tricks.

A recent New York magazine piece, based on the work of author William Poundstone, revealed the menu strategies restaurants use to drive customers toward or away from various dishes. For example, a clever menu designer won't list all prices in a long column, lest that layout enable diners to easily spot the less expensive items. Designers may highlight some expensive menu items, so that you "anchor" onto those prices, making everything else on the menu suddenly seem less expensive and more attractive. Designers may even leave out dollar signs and decimal points in a menu's prices, just to make them seem less like actual costs.

You won't only find these sorts of strategies at expensive high-end establishments. Even more popular eateries like Darden Restaurants' (NYSE:DRI) Olive Garden and Brinker International's (NYSE:EAT) Chili's use these tactics to some extent.

Same goes for the Wall Street Cafe
Stock prices often look like they're playing the same sorts of games -- but in this case, the fault typically lies with your own brain, not some cunning menu designer. For example, stocks such as Markel (NYSE:MKL) and Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) sport triple-digit share prices. When a very green investor sees those prices next to stocks trading for $25 per share, he or she will often incorrectly assume that the "cheaper" stock is a better bargain. Yet if you passed on Google back in March at less than $300 per share, you've missed out on a 100% gain.

Investors can also fall prey to their own sort of anchoring. Suppose you want to own Amazon.com (NASDAQ:AMZN), but you decide that it's too expensive to buy north of $130. If it falls to $100, you might automatically buy it -- without stopping to ask whether it's still overvalued. Conversely, a $130 price may seem cheap in light of its future prospects.

A high price doesn't make a restaurant dish -- or a stock -- good or bad all on its own. In both cases, you'll need to consider the ingredients that make up the meal, and the folks running the kitchen, before you can determine its true value.

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Longtime Fool contributor Selena Maranjian owns shares of Google. Google is a Motley Fool Rule Breakers pick. Amazon.com is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendation. The Fool owns shares of Markel, which is a Motley Fool Inside Value selection. Try any of our investing newsletters free for 30 days. The Motley Fool is Fools writing for Fools.