16 Menu Tricks

16 "Tricks" to get Customers to Spend More!

One of our favourite sites on the web is Lifehack. Full of inspiring articles and exposes. And we've got them to thank for this handy article!

They have published a post called 16 Sneaky Restaurant Menu Tricks That Tempt You To Spend More by Joseph Hindy which lifts the lid on practices within our community to increase customer spend in our restaurants. The list is reproduced below with our version next to it.

How many are you using, and how many could you implement into your business today?!?


1. They say "They use ridiculous adjectives". We say "Good copy sells!"

What is the best way you can describe each of your dishes to make the customers mouth water and get them anticipating the first bite?

2. They say "They don't use dollar / pound signs". We say "Test menus with and without currency symbols"

The theory is that when you see a currency symbol, you think of money. When you don't, the number become much less significant. However this is a very subjective matter so we recommend testing first. Get half your menus printed with currency symbols, the other half without. Give some tables menus with and some without and see which one spend the most money. You'll then know which to roll out.

3. The say "The use number trickery". We say "How you price you meals is very important"

This is a simple trick used by everyone in all businesses (an you're probably already doing it!). Instead of pricing a meal at £10 you price it at £9.99 or £9.85 or some other variable just below the higher, round number. Although the customer is essentially spending the same amount, psychologically it feels less and can help boost sales.

4. They say "They use family titles to entice customers". We say "Using the right language (and family names) can add provenance to a meal".

The examples they give are using "Grandma's chocolate chip cookies" instead of just "chocolate chip cookies". This evokes memories of the customer's Grandma making cookies, and increases the appeal of the dish. Is one of your dishes a family specialty? You can even use locations such as "Mediterranean" to evoke warmth and holiday feelings, or "Icelandic" to create a sense of winter and cold. As with all things, test to see if using these works better than a plain description.

5. They say "They use ethnic terms to make dishes seem more authentic". We say "If you are making food that is not from the UK it makes sense to use it's actual name".

We live in an age where people are saturated with information, and area well aware of different cultures and their cusines. If you are serving an Italian dish it makes sense to give it the proper Italian name. It does make the dish feel more authentic and is likely to encourage the customer to choose it on the menu (especially if it is sitting alongside English dishes). Just remember to include a translation below so people are able to see what the dish name means!

6. They say "They use brand names to create product associations". We say "Using brand names (where appropriate) is smart".

So how do you use a brand name with your food. Well... TGI Friday serve "Jack Daniels" chicken, and this then associates that drink (and all the marketing that has gone into it) to the meal. We're not suggesting you start creating dishes around Malibu, or Bacardi (!), but you could try associating the food with either a film, celebrity or sports personality (I remember eating "Botham Burgers" as a child - shows my age!). The only thing you need to be careful of is brand infringement. You should be OK, but use this strategy sparingly.

7. They say "They use anchor items". We say "Menu placement based on price helps to sell more expensive meals".

The psychology of this is pretty straight forward. If you have a main course that costs £20 and place it next to one costing £10, then it seems very expensive. However if you place it next to a menu item costing £30, the £20 dish suddenly seems much more reasonably priced. The more expensive item is called the "anchor item". We like to use this particular strategy with high margin menu items to increase the profit per meal.

8. They say "They highlight certain items to make them seem special". We say "Highlight your best earners"

Similar to how we finished Trick number 7, it's always smart business to try and increase your profit per meal (without compromising on the quality of the food being served). It makes sense to highlight items you want people to eat, an when used in conjunction with trick 7 this can be very powerful.

9. They say "They increase the price of the second least expensive wine". We say "And...?"

This is a classic tactic, and one that can increase your overall customer transactions nicely. The majority of people don't want to spend too much on a bottle of wine, but they also don't like to appear like they are being "cheap". So rather than choosing the first (and cheapest) bottle of wine on the list, they'll go for the second. The reality of our business is that there is a lot of money in the sale of wines, so why not maximise your return?

10. They say "They design their menus in a unique way to prevent you from comparing prices". We say "An interesting idea... not seen it before and would be interesting to test"

The idea here is to vary how you display prices on the menu. Different fonts, different size, different placement, with a view to making price comparison between the different menu items difficult. As with most of these tricks you might want to run a test to see if this works. We're not totally convinced...

11. They say "They use the “right next door” tactic". We say "We are in the business of maximising our profit"

This references trick 7, and is essentially a recommendation to place the highest profit items next to the anchor item to make them seem more appealing. We agree!

12. They say "They’ll use useless language to make bland items sound more exotic". We say "Adding provenance to food works and quality food deserves it".

How do you describe the potatoes you use to make your triple cook chips? Are they potatoes? Are they Maris Piper or King Edwards? The criticism leveled at us is a potato is just a potato, but we think a discerning customer knows that a nice floury potato is going to give you a better chip, so let them know that you know! Triple fried Kind Edward Potato Chips sounds better than Triple fried Potato Chips... And should help to bump your sales.

13. They say "Restaurants know where you look at the menu and organize it accordingly". We say "Use human viewing psychology to your advantage".

The way we read menus is very much prescribed (in the west). The first part we read is the top right. The last part is the bottom left. Pop your anchor in the top right and use the "right next door" strategy to sell your high margin items. Put the cheaper items down in the bottom left.

14. They say "They use boxes". We say "USE boxes!"

Boxes are another way to draw the eyeline. You can make these bold or decorative, but make sure to put anchor items and high margin items in them to increase your profit margin.

15. They say "They use vague language to keep their portion sizes a secret". We say "Use descriptive language to your advantage"

Terms like "half" or "full" are discussed here. Essentially if someone wants a smaller portion of a dish, then we offer a "half" portion which doesn't detail exactly what to expect, but gives a good overall indication of how much food is coming. This size we sell for around 2/3rds of the price of the full main course. That way there is more margin in the half course, and people buying the main will feel like they're getting a better deal.

16. They say "They use the “first in show” tactic". We say "Another smart strategy!"

If you order your menu into sections (for example Poultry, Seafood, Meat, Vegetarian) then people are most likely to choose the first item in that section. So place your highest margin item first.


An there we have it... 16 "Tricks" or rather effective strategies that consumers may criticise, but we think are all part of helping us run and effective and profitable business.


Rob McNicoll is the CEO and Founder of The Restaurant Marketer. With over a decade helping businesses grow, he has added over £16.9 million and counting in additional revenues using his marketing techniques.A sought after marketing consultant and business mentor, Rob's strategies have been implemented in businesses ranging from PLCs to single entrepreneurs. There is one common theme  - these techniques are straight forward, easy to implement and give results.

Rob McNicoll
CEO - The Restaurant Marketer

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