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The Psychology Behind Menu Card Design

Psychological tricks used to design a menu card have such an impact that we are manipulated to order what the restaurants want us to order. Thus, before we can realize, our bill has already jumped by leaps and bounds. Know the psychology behind the menu card design in this MarketingWit write-up.
MarketingWit Staff
Did You Know?
Gregg Rapp, a menu engineer, is the mastermind behind the "no currency symbol" trend that has swept the entire restaurant industry around the world.
The human brain is wired to think and process information logically, but due to the daily hustle and bustle and time constraints, we just ignore the hints it gives us and fall prey to the teeny-weeny games of the restaurateurs.

Nowadays, restaurateurs are aware of the fact that the customer has become savvier and can't be duped easily. Therefore, they go that extra mile and hire people to design the interiors, teach the servers the art of up-selling, and to engineer the menu and the menu card.

Menu Engineering - yeah, you read that right! You may think that engineering only deals with computers and machines, but let me tell you that there is a vocation called menu engineering, and the people dealing with it are menu engineers. These people are paid to craft and word the menu card correctly. Menu engineers should be able to decide correctly if the balance between value offering and making profits is struck.

A menu card is the selling point of a restaurant, and therefore, it should be unique. It behaves as an individual entity that reflects a restaurant's business, engages the customers, and also makes profit for the owner. Therefore, the menu card is always designed carefully after putting in a lot of thought. Attention is given to points, such as design, diction, and overall appeal.

Let's check out how the restaurants design menus and play with the psychology behind it.

Theme

Trick
The menu engineer will match the theme of the restaurant with that of the menu card.

Psychology
You get a general feeling that everything is pulled together perfectly. Everything is in order, and it's a nice place to have food.

Lighting

Trick
He will also decide the lighting that will be there when you read the menu card.

Psychology
Dimming the lights will give an effect of peace and harmony, so that the shock you get after seeing the prices hits you mildly.

Font Size and Type

Trick
Ideally 12-pt. font size and simple font types are used.

Psychology
A 12-pt. font size just seems perfect; it is neither too small, nor too large. People are in a hurry and want things easy and fast. Therefore, difficult-to-read font types and sizes are avoided.

Long Descriptions

Trick
Dishes are given lengthy rhetorical descriptions.

Psychology
It is also normally seen that people decipher 'hard to read' flowery descriptions of a dish (such as using 'hand-battered' for 'fried') as something that is 'hard to prepare' and requires a lot of skill. He orders the dish thinking that it is unique and tasty.

What's the Deal
Descriptions, like "farm-fresh eggs scrambled with juicy tomatoes, frizzled onions, with the right amount of salt and natural herbs that perfectly blend with the generous amount of cheese sprinkled on top", instead of simple "scrambled eggs" does the trick. It makes the dish sound more appetizing. It evokes an emotion and acts as a mini advertisement for every dish.

Highlighting the Top-Right Corner

Trick
The most profitable item is highlighted at the top-right corner of the menu card.

Psychology
It is the premium space where the customer will look first as soon as he opens the menu card.

What's the Deal
If the most profitable and expensive item is placed on the top-right corner, the customer will look at it first. It is seen that use of boxes or other highlighters seem to work wonders. If the customer finds the highlighted dish too expensive, then he will look at the other dishes. Now, they will appear less expensive when compared to the most expensive dish and would seem to be a better deal to order. Another trick that plays hand in hand is that the less-priced item is the one that is usually highly marked up.

Aversion to Extreme Prices

Trick
The customer is given more options to choose from.

Psychology
The customer's tendency to show aversion to the costliest and the cheapest item, thus settling with the middle option is trapped.

What's the Deal
If a customer is offered small and large portions of popcorn for $3 and $5, respectively, it is highly probable that he will end up purchasing the small one by thinking that the large one may be too large. Now, if instead of two, he is given three options of $3, $5, and $7, he will now choose the middle (medium) option, thinking that the small portion may be too small and the large portion may be too large. The same portion size that he was finding too large in the first scenario is now quite okay with him.

Decoy Pricing

Trick
Two similarly priced items are placed together.

Psychology
Out of the two medium-priced dishes, the customer compares their descriptions and picks up the costlier item.

What's the Deal
Two dishes, one being more profitable and the other being less, are placed to next to each other or one below the other. Here's the trick - the more profitable dish is given an interesting exaggerated description, while the less profitable dish is made to look boring with little description. The contrast entices the customer, and he orders the more profitable (for the restaurant) dish.

Using Center Alignment

Trick
The text is center-aligned to confuse the customer and reduce price comparison.

Psychology
The customer's attention gets diverted from the price column due to the break in the flow of the prices. Therefore, he sets his mind on the food instead of focusing on the price.

What's the Deal
If all the prices are aligned to the right, then the customer will get a chance to compare the prices easily by going down the menu without even looking at the dishes. To avoid this, all the dishes are center-aligned with the prices printed just next to the description, without any obvious change of font color, size, or type.

No Currency Symbol

Trick
The currency symbol is never written before the price.

Psychology
The customer is temporarily made to forget the fact that 15.00 = $15 or fifteen dollars and it's "money" that he is spending. Therefore, he ends up spending more than required.

What's the Deal
One reason to remove the currency symbol is to remove the attention from the price and make you focus more on the food. There is no other logical reason as to why skipping the currency symbol makes the customer spend more. It is one of the smart tricks that restaurants use and yes! It does work.

Power of 9

Trick
Prices are written in such a way that they end with a 9, .99, or .95

Psychology
The tendency of people to associate prices ending with 9 as the discounted price is trapped.

What's the Deal
Usually, our mind is conditioned to think that the prices ending with 9 are discounted prices. It is also a fact that when we are in a hurry, our brain interprets 14.99 as 14, and we end up placing an instant order. While in the reverse case, if the price is cut down from 8 to 6 dollars, they will mention it as "was $8 now $6" and not "was $8 now $5.97", because it becomes difficult to calculate and interpret the difference fast.

No Dots Leading to the Price

Trick
After the name of dish, dots that lead to the price of the food item are avoided.

Psychology
This trick is used to avoid the customer from comparing prices that are easily highlighted with the use of dots before them.

What's the Deal
If the name of the dish followed by description will end with "... 24.00", it will shift the attention of the customer to the price. Following this can also make the customer compare prices that are now clearly visible to him.

Use of Photographs

Trick
Photographs of high-profit items are placed on the menu card.

Psychology
Humans are visual creatures and generally associate a food item with its image.

What's the Deal
If photographs of exotic dishes or the most profitable dish are used in the menu card, then there are chances that the customer may end up ordering the dish just to check out the taste. Bright and vivid photographs tempt the customer to find out how that "passion fruit crème brulee" that looks enticing in the image tastes like.

In summation, I can say that I don't deny the fact that a properly made-up menu card has got the power to lure us into spending the extra buck, but we are much more smarter than that. With the knowledge you've just acquainted yourself with, you can have control over your bill and still come out of a restaurant with a full stomach.