Gotcha: The menu is playing with your mind … it’s a profit scheme.

In his book, Priceless: The Myth of Fair Value (and How to Take Advantage of It), author William Poundstone dissects the marketing tricks built into menus—for example, how something as simple as typography can drive you toward or away from that $39 steak.


Here are some on the profit-enhancing menu tricks to watch for …

1. The Upper Right-Hand Corner
That’s the prime spot where diners’ eyes automatically go first.

Restaurants often use it to highlight a tasteful, expensive pile of food.

2. Pictures

Generally, pictures of food are powerful motivators but also menu taboos — mostly because they’re used in downscale chains like Chili’s and Applebee’s.

Red Lobster ditched pics when it started trying to inch upscale

3. The “Anchor”
The highest priced item on the menu may not ever get ordered. That’s ok. It’s purpose is to make everything else near it look like a relative bargain.

4. In The Vicinity
The restaurant’s high-profit dishes tend to cluster near the anchor. They’re items at prices that seem comparatively modest (when compared to the anchor).. They’re the items the restaurant really wants you to buy.

5. Columns Are Killers
It’s a big mistake for restaurants to list prices in a straight column. “Customers will go down and choose from the cheapest items.”

Consultants say to omit “leader dots” that connect the dish to the price; and to drop dollar signs, decimal points, and cents

6. The Benefit Of Boxes
“A box draws attention and, usually, orders.

When you see an item in a box, think “high margin”

7. Menu Siberia
That’s where low-margin dishes that the regulars like end up. They’re there, but relatively easy-to-miss … or so the restaurant hopes..

8. Bracketing
A regular trick … it’s when the same dish comes in different sizes.

Because you’re never sure of the portion size, you’re tempted to to trade up … especially from small to “regular” size.

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Excerpted from Priceless: The Myth of Fair Value (and How to Take Advantage of It), Hill & Wang, an imprint of Farrar, Straus & Giroux. © 2010 by William Poundstone.
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