12 Sneaky Menu Tricks that will Tempt Your Customers to Spend More

The best ways to make customers overlook price and order what they really want.

Are you often left wondering why some hastily conceived menu items end up flying out of the kitchen while your favourite creations barely get a second glance? It may be to do with your menu – the way it is set out, how big it is, what words you use and how each item is priced and ordered on the page all affect customers on a subconscious level.

Curious how you can harness these factors and take advantage of your customers’ subconscious desire to seek out the best deal? Read on for our 11 best tactics to tempt your customers to spend more… 

What you put on your menu matters

1.       Sometimes bigger is not necessarily better.

Although you should always be trying to cater for your customers as much as possible, a huge menu with too many choices often ends up more confusing than enticing. Savvy restaurateurs account for the psychological theory known as the ‘paradox of choice’ which says that the more options we have the more anxiety we feel.

What’s the magic number you ask? Seven. Seven options per category (ie: entrée, main, dessert) will stop customers from getting overwhelmed and ordering ‘what they always get’ enticing them to try something new (and perhaps more expensive).

Of course, by narrowing down your menu offerings you can also reduce the variety of raw ingredients required, increase efficiency of staff to prepare and present the food better and at the same time, reduce wastage.

How you price your offerings matters

2.       Use relative or “anchor” pricing

The psychology continues when you look at your prices. It’s no secret your customers are more likely to order cheaper dishes. To combat this restaurants often use ‘anchor’ pricing which sees a ridiculously expensive item on the menu next to other reasonably expensive items to make them seem like a better value. For example, a customer is always going to order a $20 steak over a $30 steak. You can use this tactic to encourage customers to think more expensive items are good deals because they’re placed near an even more expensive item.

Once you have added an “anchor” item, you can also look at using another tactic we call the “Right next door” tactic. This means putting the items with the highest profit margin next to the anchor item. That way when customers understandably choose the cheaper option they also end up choosing the one that will make your restaurant the most money.

3.       Don’t use dollar signs

This isn’t a new one, but it is surprising how few restaurants use this technique when it has been proven to be effective. Customers don’t want to think of spending their hard-earned cash when they are ordering, they want to think of their delicious meal. Removing the dollar sign is only a small change but it can make a big difference.

4.       Look at your numbers

You will see this everywhere – from department stores and supermarkets to boutiques and fast food chains. Turning a $10 meal into a $9.99 meal makes the same thing seem like a better bargain. Some restaurants will even use things like $9.85. When people are surfing prices, they’ll see the cheaper stuff and unconsciously want it more.

How your menu looks matters:

5.       Keep the menu design uncluttered

The layout of your menu should be clear and uncluttered. Too many graphics look messy and take attention away from menu items.

6.        Stop price comparisons

In the past, most restaurants put their prices neatly down the right side so you can compare prices and get the ones you want. Now, more often you see restaurants will put their prices all over the place, usually listing the price discretely after the meal description in the same size font, so eyes just glide right over it. This is so customers have a harder time comparing prices. When customers have to read through the item descriptions to get to the price they are more likely to be tempted by the food than put off by the price. And while we are on the topic: if you still have dotted lines from the description on the left to the price on the right hand side, it is absolutely time for a menu redesign.

7.       Know where customers look

According to studies, people look at the top right of the menu first and the bottom left of the menu last. With this in mind, you should include your most expensive stuff (usually the anchor item) in the top right and the less expensive stuff at the bottom and the left.

8.       Use boxes

A well designed menu uses decorative boxes to highlight things like high-profit items or more expensive items. This is simple but effective, when just browsing over a drink for example, customers are more likely to look at the part with all the decoration than just the plain text.

How you describe your food matters

9.       Tell them if it’s local

Increasingly, diners want to know they are supporting local farmers and eating local goods. So if you source your food locally, make sure you tell them about it. Telling the story behind each ingredient ties people emotionally to the food they are eating and makes them more likely to order it. For example, an ‘egg’ won’t sell as well as ‘free range eggs from Bob’s Organic Eggs based in the foothills of the Victorian High Country.’ Similarly, if a particular method is used to harvest or make the product – be sure to mention that too.

10.   Use family titles

This one is simple – which are you more likely to order: “Grandma’s fresh homemade chocolate cookies” or “chocolate chip cookies”? By connecting menu items to family, restaurants evoke nostalgia in customers, and encourage them to order.

11.   Be authentic

Using ethnic terms makes dishes seem more authentic and special. This is often why Italian offerings on menus are the most popular (among other obvious reasons). “Seafood spaghetti” for example, will never perform as well as “Seafood scampi tagliatelle”?

12.   Create brand associations

As much as we hate to admit it, most of us gravitate towards our favourite brands subconsciously. You can take advantage of this subconscious desire by adding brands names to your descriptions. This may be as simple as saying “Meredith Dairy Goats Cheese” rather than just “Goats Cheese”.