10 Tactics Restaurants Use to Get Customers to Spend More

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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.

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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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