view
You don’t have to dine at an expensive restaurant to enjoy this view.

Ever wonder why some restaurants have single page menus and others are like phone directories or catalogues? Expensive restaurants and international chain restaurants commonly use marketing techniques with one thing in mind – to get you to spend more or order their highly profitable items. When it comes to value, they usually won’t have your interest in mind. This is a continuation of the last post, in which I listed many of these tricks. In this post, I will go further into detail using an infographic to reveal the various techniques used to coax you into spending more and I will give additional examples. Please note that these are generalisations and that not all expensive restaurants will employ these tactics.

  1. The Anchor. This top corner, especially when it’s accentuated by a box and/or graphic, will draw the eyes to it first. Within this area will be the anchor item, which will set the price baseline for the rest of the menu. It is usually the item with the highest price, thereby making every other item on the menu look like a bargain. Notice that in this fake menu, the anchor item is part of the “chef’s selections”. In expensive restaurants, there might be a section that lists the chef’s choices. In contrast, cheaper restaurants will have a “your choice” section in their menu.
  1. Highly Profitable Items. The items next to the anchor will usually be the restaurant’s most profitable items. Notice that all prices on this fake menu do not have dollar signs or cents, as leaving these out has been shown in studies to cause people to opt for more expensive items and to order more.
  1. Colours. Many expensive restaurants will use a simple yet elegant black and white menu. Some will use colour accents on their menu. The colours red and yellow/orange are commonly used in restaurants, fast food places, and food product packaging as these colours have been known to trigger hunger. They are also attention grabbers. Orange and yellow are associated with optimism and excitement. As warm colours, they are all inviting. Yellow in particular has been shown to trigger the release of serotonin (the feel-good chemical) in our brains. However, too much of any of these colours can be overwhelming and make a person irritable so you’ll rarely see an entire menu or the entire interior of an expensive restaurant in bright red.
  1. Pastas. According to Business Insider, one of the biggest money makers for restaurants are pasta items. Pastas (and pizzas) tend to look cheaper compared to other mains, but the markups on these items are typically much higher. Other profitable items include drinks, alcohol, and sides/soups.
  1. Quantity of Choices. According to a Bournemouth University study, there is an optimal number of items in a menu. For a fine dining restaurant, that optimal number is 7 starters, 7 desserts, and 10 main courses. The researchers believe that too many options make the burden of choice and regret a problem. Fewer choices also help the restaurant to more easily influence your choices and guide you to their more profitable items.
  1. Menu Layout. In a single column menu, where all the prices are right justified, it’s easy to scan the right side for the lowest price. Two columns or multiple sections can make it difficult for a value-conscious person to compare prices. In this fake menu, not only are there two columns, but the menu is not equally split into sections, as some sections span the entire width of the menu. This also helps to distract you from the prices. Most high-end restaurants will have one- or two-page menus, with the exception of the dessert and the drink/alcohol menu.
  1. The Award-Winning Item. Some expensive restaurants will have a “world’s best” or “voted #1” item which will try to evoke the bandwagon effect. If you believe the item is the most popular item, it is more likely that you will want to try it and rate it for yourself. The restaurant also wants you to believe you are getting and tasting value, by priming you.
  1. Names & Descriptions. The wording on a menu of an expensive restaurant is carefully crafted to convey messages. If the restaurant wants to convey nostalgia, they might use “grandma’s” or “homemade” as adjectives. If they want to convey authenticity in origin, they might use the name of a country or an ethnic label like “Ciauscolo” or “Hasenpfeffer” in their description. Words like “butter-poached”, “slow-roasted”, and “carmelised” can elicit a visceral reaction as it conveys the deliciousness of a dish. There may also be a menu item which uses an exotic ingredient, making the restaurant seem chic, exclusive, and posh.
  1. Bracketing. This is a common trick whereby menu items are offered in two sizes. The customer isn’t told how much smaller the small portion is, or whether the larger portion is double the smaller or meant to be shared. It’s a great way of deceiving people, because you’re more satisfied no matter which way you go – those ordering the smaller portion believe they’re saving money or keeping in line with their diet and not overindulging, and those ordering the larger portion think they’re getting more value, even though neither has any idea what the portion actually is. Many times, the “small” portion is the restaurant’s “usual” (intended) portion.
  1. Desserts. Items in this section are also highly profitable. As previously mentioned, some expensive restaurants will have a separate multi-page dessert menu. In our fake menu example, the dessert items are listed in two columns with their corresponding prices aligned to the right. Although this makes it a bit easier for value-conscious patrons to compare prices, in this section, the restaurant may not care if they choose a lower priced dessert as nearly every one of the desserts are huge profit makers.
  1. Boxing. A box around a menu item draws a person’s attention. The ice cream choices at the bottom of our fake menu are likely high-profit menu items that need an additional nudge in order to sell them. Restaurants will often highlight these high-profit and less popular items with decorative or coloured boxes to get your attention.

Now let’s compare our fake menu to a real menu. I recently was visited the Salt Grill & Sky Bar by Luke Mangan (but I didn’t eat there). This is the restaurant at the top of ION (level 55). Can you spot all the various components?

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The anchor is probably the caviar or any of the “Off the Grill” menu items. This likely makes their oysters and “International cut” items their highly-profitable popular items. As for their item descriptions, I had to look up several words – charcuterie, burrata, haloumi, vincotto, cromesquis, assiette… as well as where exactly the Spencer Gulf is. Notice the box at the bottom right which highlights the sides? These items are likely highly-profitable but less popular items on the menu and therefore need a little more nudging to get you to order them. Although there is no “award winning” item on the menu, the restaurant has a celebrity chef’s name in its title, making you feel like you’re getting a high quality meal that naturally commands a higher price. This particular chef does not even reside in Singapore (his flagship restaurant is in Sydney), so it is very unlikely he is the one preparing your expensive meal. The Salt Grill & Sky Bar’s main dining menu is only one page. However, they do have a separate dessert menu, a 6-page beverage menu, and an 11-page wine menu. For their wine menu, the choices can be quite overwhelming, but since nearly all the items on that menu are highly profitable, the restaurants don’t need to employ tactics to steer you to a certain selection, since just about anything you order will be a good choice for their bottom line.

Many people who have dined at the Salt Grill & Sky Bar by Luke Mangan say that the ambiance and view was worth the price of the food. Fortunately, for those aren’t keen on spending at least $47 (nett) per person for lunch or at least $70 (nett) per person for dinner, you can enjoy the breathtaking view at ION Sky (level 56) instead. It’s absolutely free and open to the public daily between 3pm – 6pm. And once you’ve soaked in all that ambiance, go grab yourself a bite to eat at a less expensive place!

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