Do Not Fall For These Behavioral Tricks When Eating Out At a Restaurant

by Hank Coleman

My wife and I love to go out to eat, and I was actually blown away when I found some money saving tips in this month’s Food Network magazine of all places.  Like many purchases we make and the retailers that sell the goods to us, there is more that goes into what we buy than just our needs and wants.  Many companies go out of their way to play into our subconscious and the behavioral aspects of our purchases.

A lot of times we buy things because of how they are advertised or presented to us.  For example, I personally have a coupon in my wallet for a DVD that is pretty good.  The coupon is a great deal, but when I think about it, I do not really need or want the movie.  I was going to buy it and add it to my collection since I got a great coupon for it.  That is why companies shower the Sunday newspapers with ads in the first place.  Over 50% of why we make a purchase is mental. 

And, going out to dinner in a restaurant is no different.  Restaurants go out of their way to separate us from our dollar bills.

Here are a few examples of hour restaurants get us to spend more…

  • Dollar signs are missing from the prices next to the food
  • Prices are staggered across the page so you cannot easily compare prices of items
  • Cheaper food is hidden in the middle of the menu
  • Do not be swayed by expensive menu items set apart in bold typeface, fancy fonts, or crazy names.  According to a recent Cornell University study, this tactic can increase a restaurant’s sales by as much as 10%.
  • Do not fall for sentimental item names or patriotic or nostalgic item descriptions.  This can increase profits by over 27%.
  • Study the menu when you get it from your server.  The average American spends less than two minutes pouring over the menu deciding what to eat.

By knowing these tricks restaurants use and what to watch out for, we can be better consumers and watch our spending while still enjoying a night on the town.

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

the weakonomist March 5, 2009 at 12:13 pm

You mean the “All American Patriotic Classic Cheeseburger” is a trick? Damn. Next time I’ll pass on that and just get “Texas Cowboy Steak” with a side of Freedom Fries, with “Hearty Superbowl Chili”. Crisis avoided.

The point about no dollar sign is brilliant. I’d never thought of that, and I at least pretend to be consumer savvy.

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