Attention Diners: You Too Are Being Profiled

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Just as retailers are keeping close tabs on shoppers, monitoring purchases and adapting to the “new frugality” among consumers, restaurateurs are stepping up the use of “Menu Psychology” to get diners to spend as much as possible.

Menu Psychology involves almost every part of the dining experience: The names of dishes, the descriptions of entrées, appetizers, desserts, and ingredients, the asking price, and even how the price is listed (leaving off the $ sign improves sales, apparently because it’s just a number rather than an indication of money being spent) are all carefully considered and serve a purpose, reports the NY Times. Nothing gets onto a menu by accident:

Pounded by the recession, [restaurants] are hoping that some magic combination of prices, adjectives, fonts, type sizes, ink colors and placement on the page can coax diners into spending a little more money…

The use of menu engineers and consultants is exploding in the casual dining arena and among national chains, a sector of the business that has been especially pinched by the economy. In response, they are tapping into a growing body of research into the science of menu pricing and writing, hoping the way to a diner’s heart is not only through the stomach, but through the unconscious.

Wow, there’s such a thing as a menu engineer. Among the tricks used to entice diners to spend a bit more are:

*Taking dollar signs off menus

*Naming menu items after someone’s mother or grandmother (especially if they’re related to the chef or owner)

*Most profitable items are placed at the top right on the menu, where the eye is naturally drawn

*Tossing in over-the-top, souped-up adjectives and phrases like “slammed with flavor” and “triple-basted”

So, if you’re looking at a menu that says something like “Grandma Trudie’s Sooper Dooper Top Secret Lamb Chops Special,” and it’s listed on the upper right-hand corner for a price of “29,” you are probably on the receiving end of something of a psychology experiment. Its purpose? To make you bite—exactly what the owners want you to bite. There may, in fact, be no Grandma Trudie, which is a shame, because she sounds like such a nice lady.