When a dollar sign is used on a menu, diners are more likely to choose a cheaper option.* For example, if your ten entrees are priced with dollar signs from $64 down to $12, diners are more likely to choose the less expensive options.
Dollar signs have actually been proven by brain science to create a negative physiological response of pain because they remind people that they are spending money.**
Instead of pricing an item at $14.00, it will create less psychological interference if you price it at 14.00. Even better is listing the item at 14. A Cornell University study found that spelling out the price, “Fourteen,” also encourages patrons to spend more.
* Culinary Institute of America, 2009 Using Menu Psychology to Entice Diners
** Simon, 2013 Confessions of the Pricing Man
It’s a good idea to make your menu prices as inconspicuous as possible. Here are a few suggestions to encourage diners to spend more:
- An item priced at $13.95 is better expressed as 14. A menu item with fewer digits makes a diner feel like they are spending less money
- Do not put prices in a column. Your guests will read down the price column and then look to see which items match what they want to spend. Listing the price after the meal description in the same size font allows the guest to choose what they want to eat, not what they want to spend.
- Place the price at the end of the menu description rather than lined up with the menu item header
Diced Black Forest ham, chopped green bell pepper, diced onions with melted American cheese. 12
Western Omelet 12
Diced Black Forest ham, chopped green bell pepper, diced onions with melted American cheese.
PROVIDE LIMITED OPTIONS
There is a psychological theory called “the paradox of choice.” It means that the more options we have, the more anxiety we feel. Providing too many choices will overwhelm and confuse diners, who will typically choose an item they have had before, just to decrease their anxiety.
The magic number for menu options is anywhere from 7 to 10 per category you offer (seven appetizers, seven entrees, etc.)
We’re Serious, Provide Limited Options
The average time a customer spends on a menu is 109 seconds.*
Make it easy for them to make a choice.
* Gallup, 2005 The Psychology of Menu Design
HAVE A SEPARATE DESSERT MENU
Don’t include desserts on your main menu because if diners see a dessert that they want at the beginning of their meal, they’ll skip an appetizer or order a smaller plate.
Presenting your diners with a dessert menu after their meal increases the chances that they will order one and will increase both your appetizer and dessert sales and profits.
LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION
Menu placement is extremely important and human behavior when reading a menu is predictable. Diners don’t read menus from top to bottom, left to right.
The first place a person’s eye goes to on a two-page menu is just above the center on the right hand page. Next, people’s attention goes to the top of the left page. Followed by bottom of the left page, top of the right page and finally, bottom of the right page.
Placing the right items in the right areas will ensure your menu works for you.
- The upper right corner is prime real estate; put your highest profit producing items here
- A lot of repeat sales come from the center right, so your most ordered items work here too
- Seasonal specialties also belong in the coveted center right location
- Put your appetizers on the top of the left page
- If your appetizers are on the upper left of the page, place salads underneath that on the lower left
Upper right and bottom right
- Items prepared with pricier ingredients should go here
A different strategy is to place your most popular menu item last on the right page to encourage people to read the entire menu to find it. The psychological concept known as the “serial position effect” is the tendency to remember the first and last items in a list more than the others, so another option is to place popular items first or last so that they are remembered.
Of course, you understand your menu items and customers best, so do what works best for you.
USE NEGATIVE SPACE
Placing a signature item apart from the rest of the menu, with empty space around it, will draw your diners’ attention to it.
ADD PHOTOS TO YOUR MENU
An attractive photo next to a food item can increase its sales by 30%, when there is just one photo on the page.*
But use them sparingly! Placing a photograph with every single menu item tends to be a technique associated with low-end or cheap restaurants.
We suggest avoiding cliché stock photos, or overly staged pictures, and use a style like you would see people posting on Facebook or Instagram. Authentic looking food photos are more effective.
* Rapp, 2013 – 10 Menu Design Hacks Restaurants Use to Make You Order More
USE A DECOY
Perspective is important, especially on menus. One strategy is to include a very expensive item near the top of the menu, which makes everything else seem reasonably priced.
A $12 cocktail is a real bargain compared to that $75 glass of Scotch!
USE COLORS TO YOUR ADVANTAGE
Colors can be powerful motivators, if used correctly. Color is a powerful communication tool that helps create feelings and emotions and can be used to signal action, influence mood, and even influence physiological reactions. Psychologists, researchers and experts have made several significant discoveries about how color impacts our moods, feelings, and behaviors.
For example, blue is a soothing and calming color and research suggests blue is an appetite suppressant, so printing a menu with blue ink on blue paper may discourage diners from ordering an appetizer or dessert. Red, on the other hand, can stimulate appetite, so you may want to strategically use red in your menu design for items with the highest profit margins to increase sales.
Here are some psychological and physiological responses to various colors:
- Blue is the favorite color of many people and is the color most preferred by men
- Blue is viewed as non-threatening, conservative and traditional
- Blue creates calmness or serenity. It is described as peaceful, tranquil, secure, and orderly
- Blue can also create or reflect feelings of sadness or aloneness
- Blue is one of the least appetizing colors. In fact, some weight loss plans even recommend eating your food off of a blue plate. Blue rarely occurs naturally in food aside from blueberries and plums. Humans are also wired to avoid foods that are poisonous and blue colored food is often a sign of spoilage or poison
- Red has the longest wavelength
- Red is a powerful color
- Red appears nearer than it is and therefore grabs our attention first
- Red is a stimulating color and raises the pulse rate
- Red is a bright, warm color that is associated with love, warmth, and comfort
- Red is also considered an intense color that creates feelings of excitement or intensity
- Green symbolizes nature and the natural world
- Green represents tranquility, good luck and health
- Green is often used for its calming effect, to relieve stress and help heal
- Yellow is often described as cheery and warm
- Yellow is also the most fatiguing to the eye due to the high amount of light that is reflected. Using yellow as a background on a menu can lead to eyestrain
- Yellow can also increase the metabolism and stimulate appetite
- Yellow is the most visible color and is the most attention-getting color. Yellow can be used in small amount to draw notice on menus for high profit or popular items
- Purple does not occur often in nature, so it is viewed as rare and intriguing
- Purple is a calming and energetic color
- Purple has the shortest wavelength and has associations with royalty
- Purple usually communicates high quality
- Excessive use of purple can communicate something cheap faster than any other color
- Brown is a natural color that evokes strength and reliability
- Brown is often seen as solid, much like the earth
- Brown can also create feelings of loneliness, sadness and isolation. Used in large amounts it can seem vast, stark, and empty
- Orange creates feelings of excitement, enthusiasm, and energy
- Orange is often used to draw attention on menus to popular or high profit items
- Orange is also the color of sunsets and fruits such as oranges and tangerines, so people might associate the color with the beauty of a sunset or the refreshing taste of citrus
- Pink is a combination of white and red and is associated with love and romance
- Pink is thought to have a calming effect
- Pink is often described as a feminine color but it does grab attention quickly
USE THE RIGHT WORDS
According to a Cornwell University study*, longer, more detailed item descriptions sell 30 percent more food. The more copy you provide about the menu item makes it seem that the customer is getting more for their money.
If there is one item on the menu with a longer description than the other items, diners will notice because we are conditioned to notice something that’s different. Use this difference to call attention to a best-seller or high profit item.
Use vividly descriptive titles, which boost sales. Instead of offering “Chocolate Mousse,” try “Decadent Old-School Chocolate Mousse.” An added benefit is that diners typically believe more thoroughly described food tastes better!
Use menu item descriptions that capture ingredient sourcing or preparation methods. For example, “Hand Tossed Deep Dish Pizza” is a time-tested description that describes how the pizza is made. Same with “Ohio-Raised All-Beef Burger.”
Use the phrase “House Favorites” or “Chef’s Favorites” instead of “specials,” which sounds cheap and greasy spoon-ish.
Don’t capitalize everything on your menu. It’s acceptable to capitalize the menu items, but use lower-case for the description to slow down the reader’s eyes and keep them from glossing over the whole menu.
You want your menu to do as much of the work as possible and using the right words will help do that.
But don’t overdo it.
Too many words on a menu can be overwhelming and lead to paralysis. Our best advice is that your menu descriptions should be long enough to describe the food, ingredients and how it is prepared to create enthusiasm for the dish.
* Cornell University, 2009 – $ or Dollars: Effects of Menu-price Formats on Restaurant Checks
CREATE A SENSE OF NOSTALGIA
Whether it is true or not, we tend to romanticize the past and consider it “the good old days.” You should consider using this sense of nostalgia to take diners back to their childhood or to a simpler time.
Consider this when naming your menu items. Instead of the generic, “Chicken Paprikash,” consider calling it “Nana’s Sunday Chicken Paprikash.” Or instead of “Grilled Cheese,” an item called “Dad’s Cast Iron Grilled Cheese” will evoke nostalgia and memories of a “better time.”
Nostalgia takes us to a place where we ache to go again. Use it to your advantage.
Your menu must reflect your brand’s personality, story, and promise.
The human brain is wired to respond to storytelling and your brand personality is telling its story. Why do customers need it or want it? Why do they buy it? Is it your commitment to sourcing local ingredients? Providing comfort food? An upscale dining experience? Authentic barbeque?
Whatever it is, that is your brand story and personality.
Your brand’s personality, story and promise must drive your menu creation. In fact, it has to drive your entire business, from your signage to the color you paint your walls to the way your servers interact with diners. Your brand story is the most important asset you have.
Paper, plastic, wood and cardboard are all menu materials that communicate your brand story. Thick paper or menus tucked into solid leather menu covers convey the message that the restaurant and the food are high-end. Paper menus with date stamps help communicate to diners that the menu changes often or that the food is very fresh. A bamboo menu in an Asian restaurant helps customers expect authentic dishes. Rustic wood menu covers can help explain the down-hominess of a real barbeque “joint.”
Cleveland Menu will work with you to craft the perfect menu that reflects and builds your brand story.
MAKE THE "SECRET MENU" NOT-SO-SECRET
In fact, make an entirely separate menu for your secret menu. You know, the menu that supposedly doesn’t exist. Put a few items on it – really special items. Share your not-so-secret menu with selected guests and word will get out! Your secret menu will become, well, not-so-secret.
Have fun with it! Deny it exists, even as you hand a diner a menu that says “Chef’s Secret Menu” on it.