Why You Overspend At Restaurants Without Even Realizing

February 2nd, 2021

For most people, eating out is a once-in-a-while treat. Even after a senior discount, it’s still expensive! Part of the reason for this is simply that restaurants are designed to get you to spend more money. Wait, what?

That’s right, you read correctly—many restaurants are purposefully designed so that customers spend more money when they eat out. Fortunately, though, once you know these tricks it’s easy to look out for them. Here are some of the ways that restaurants make you spend more before you even realize.

They draw your attention to the most profitable items.

Have you ever noticed how, when you look at a menu, your eye goes straight to the items that are bolded, boxed, or otherwise different from everything else? This is by design. By highlighting certain items, restaurants make the item look really special. It doesn’t mean the dish is bad, but it does likely mean the dish is more expensive than other items on the menu. Be sure to give the rest of the menu a good read before returning to the specials.

They put really expensive items on the menu.

It’s normal for restaurants to have one or two big-ticket items. However, the most expensive items—like that $65 steak—make everything else seem more reasonable by comparison, meaning people are more likely to order things that look like a better deal even if they aren’t. The filet mignon might be a little much for your budget, but you probably won’t think as hard about ordering that $36 fish, even though that’s nowhere near the cheapest thing on the menu.

They draw your attention away from the price.

Ever wonder why you rarely see dollar signs on a menu? It’s because they remind you that you’re spending money, so restaurants leave them out. Another thing menus do is staggering prices so they’re not in a straight line. This way, you can’t scan the list to find the cheapest thing first. Lastly, menus will separate the price and the item description so you’re not immediately put off by the price. This means people will consider more expensive items than they usually would.

They hide value items at the bottom of the menu.

Thanks to many years of research, menu designers have lots of knowledge on how people read and interact with menus. For example, did you know that people usually start at the upper right corner? Next time you go to a restaurant, note whether the menu tries to attract your eye with an interesting dish or design in the upper right corner. Then look to the bottom left corner—people tend to look at this area less, so you’ll probably find less expensive but still tasty items there.

They use descriptive language.

“Light, fluffy, mile-high pancakes with our signature brown sugar butter, seasonal fresh mixed berries, and your choice of homemade blueberry syrup or maple syrup specially imported from Vermont. Served with a side of crisp, thick-cut bacon or local-made sausage patties.” Did this description make your mouth water? That’s because it’s meant to! Extremely descriptive menus are just one more tactic restaurants use to increase sales. Focus on the seasoning and preparation if you don’t want to get sucked in by the flowery language.

What’s your favorite place to eat out? Let us know in the comments!

Want to save even more money on everyday items? Check out our roundup of this week’s best discounts!

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