Next time you go out to eat and the waiter brings you a menu, take a deep breath. Open it up. Turn it over. Start on the left side first, then go immediately to the back of the menu. Read the right side of the menu last. Why? Read onâ€¦.a little knowledge makes for a nice appetizer.
One of the reasons the tabs are going up is because of something you probably donâ€™t realize. Then again, youâ€™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. Thatâ€™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 youâ€™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.
Thereâ€™s also a psychology to how menu items are priced.
â€¢ Not surprisingly, there is a migration toward higher price points. People buy brands, and food is an easy indulgence. Thatâ€™s why we buy $4 Starbucks over fifty cent convenience store coffee.
â€¢ 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, itâ€™s all called hip, minimalist pricing, and items are rounded up. That big steak in the fine dining restaurant isnâ€™t $38.95, itâ€™s $39.
â€¢ Whatâ€™s the price barrier? $20 is the tipping point for casual dining restaurants. You wonâ€™t see many items at PF Changs or Cheesecake Factory above $19.99.
â€¢ Restaurants have also learned that pictures sell food, but pictures also pull down the perception of overall quality. Dennyâ€™s and IHop use pictures, but Red Lobster is becoming more upscale and stopped using photos last year. Their price points â€“ and their profits â€“ went up.