Americans are eating out more than ever, and they’re spending more than ever before. Consider this: the nation’s 935,000 restaurants should hit $537 billion in sales this year. This means that the average American adult will spend nearly 48 per cent of his or her food budget in restaurants.
One of the reasons the tabs are going up is because of something you probably don’t realize. Then again, you’re not supposed to realize it: the secret science of menu psychology. Smart chefs (or their menu consultants) know that when most of you open a menu, your eyes go right to the top of the page on the right side. And, armed with that knowledge, chefs place the menu item that will give them the most profit at the top of the page. Hence, it soon becomes their biggest seller. Then, your eyes normally drift to the center of the page. That’s where many chefs place their absolutely most expensive item. They do that not because they expect you to buy that item, but because the psychology of menus indicates you’ll probably then look at the items immediately above and below the high ticket item and order one of those. Again, those two items rank second and third for generating profits.
the psychology of menu pricing.
• Not surprisingly, there is a migration toward higher price points. People buy brands, and food is an easy indulgence. That’s why we buy $4 Starbucks over fifty cent convenience store coffee.
• Price rounding psychology only works with lower-priced items: Someone will buy a $1.99 taco, but not one sold at $2. On higher priced items at upscale restaurants, it’s all called hip, minimalist pricing, and items are rounded up. That big steak in the fine dining restaurant isn’t $38.95, it’s $39.
• What’s the price barrier? $20 is the tipping point for casual dining restaurants. You won’t see many items at PF Changs or Cheesecake Factory above $19.99.
• Restaurants have also learned that pictures sell food, but pictures also pull down the perception of overall quality. Denny’s and IHop use pictures, but Red Lobster is becoming more upscale and stopped using photos last year. Their price points – and their profits – went up.
Last but not least tasty, there’s dessert. Since everyone claims to be concerned about extra calories, a number of restaurants have redesigned their menus to offer “bite-sized” desserts.