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Restaurateurs have been applying menu psychology – often unknowingly – for years. A more systematic approach can unlock significant value.

Restaurant menu ideas are one thing, but proper design can shift attention, enhance taste expectations, and increase the perception of value.

Before you design your restaurant menu, think about the underlying theory of menu psychology, including consumer behavior, behavioral economics, and visual cues that impact menu design.

Keep these 9 things in mind when it comes to restaurant menu design and psychology.

Attribute Priming

Talking to people about a certain attribute of a product can make them desire that attribute more. In other words, just thinking about something can make people want it.

What this means is that marketers do not have to actively sell something to sell it. They just have to mention it. The simple act of thinking about something makes people more likely to want it.

What deal would you prefer? Buy 1 Get 1 Free or Buy 2 for the price of 1?

Decision Paralysis

Less is more. Giving consumers fewer options can increase sales. This is also known as analysis paralysis.

The issue here is known as cognitive load, where too many choices results in an inability to make a decision. So giving people fewer choices makes it easier for them to make a decision, like what to buy. And when it’s easier to make a decision, people buy more.

Default Bias

When people make a choice they tend to favor the default option or the status quo, rather than taking time to consider and adopt an alternative state. In other words, people tend to choose the path of least resistance. This may be due to a number of factors, including limited attention, the perception that default options imply recommendations, and recommendations imply popularity.

Default biases are often blamed for undesirable outcomes, like Americans eating too many fries and drinking too much soda as a result of “Supersized” meals at McDonald’s.

Dominated Alternatives

When presented with options, a third decoy option can make people more likely to choose the seller’s preferred option. When the Economist offered readers a choice between on online subscription for $56 and a print subscription for $125, they found that most people preferred to buy the cheaper online version. This was the opposite of what the Economist marketing department wanted, so they changed the offer.

Framing Effect

When given two identical choices, people prefer the choice that is more attractively framed. Like getting something something for ‘free’.

80% of a restaurant’s food sales come from only 16% of menu items. How do you know which ones? The perfect menu is just a click away with Upserve's Menu Builder.

Design Your Menu

Here is an example. Which deal would you prefer?

Buy 1 Get 1 Free

Or

Buy 2 for the Price of 1

The price is the same. But which would you prefer? Getting 1 free? Or buying 2?

Irrational Value Assessment

People believe that more expensive things are better, regardless of actual value. This is also known as the placebo effect. This has been demonstrated in numerous experiments.

Payment Pain

Spending money is painful. Consuming is pleasurable. Consumers weigh the pain of payment against the pleasure of consumption when making purchasing decisions.

Recency

People can more accurately recall the first and last items on a list. This seems to be a reflection of the structure of short term memory, where the first thing a person sees makes the biggest impact, and the last item is the most recent, so it is easier to remember.

Scanning

Researchers analyze eye scanning patterns to see if there are identifiable patterns of gazing at a list. Do people read menus in predictable patterns? The answer to this question matters because menu sweet spots may exist depending on where people first look and where they finish, based on gaze patterns. These sweet spots are the most ‘visible’ locations on a menu.

As you’re designing your restaurant menu, think about the placement of the items on the page with consumer behavior and menu psychology in mind – it’s sure to make a difference. Bottom line: restaurant menu design is impacted by psychology.

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As part of Upserve’s family of more than 10,000 restaurants, The Chef is Restaurant Insider’s secret weapon in the kitchen. As a restaurant expert in all things marketing, menu building, management, training and more, restaurateurs trust The Chef and the award-winning Restaurant Insider to dish out the ingredients needed to make your business a sweet success.