3 Menu Psychology and Menu Design Jedi Mind Tricks

By: Donald Burns

5 Minute Read

Nov 14, 2017

Jedi Mind Trick Menu

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Of all the things that can have an impact on your bottom line, your menu is your primary tool. Unlike retail businesses where people may browse and leave, there is a very high chance at restaurants that visitors will purchase something to eat or drink. Menus are more than just a list of items for sale, then. Your menu is a tool of influence and persuasion when designed properly.

The common mistake most restaurant owners make when it comes to design is that they try too hard. Their menu becomes a dissertation of filler words and descriptions that leave the guest confused and overwhelmed by the number of words that fill up the menu page. The key is to understand that when it comes to menus we don’t really read them, we scan them. If you want to have a more effective menu that really can drive sales, then you need to set up and design your menu for the way most people look at it.

While an entire book could be written on the psychology of menu design and menu engineering, let’s focus on three simple Jedi mind tricks you can utilize to guide people to where you want them to buy.

1. Anchoring

Back in the 1980s, psychologist discovered that exposure to certain words could encourage consumers to buy items they suggested. This is done through a price comparison and it works quite effectively.

Have you ever been to a high-end steakhouse and seen this on the menu?

PB& J + Louis Roederer Cristal
Hand crafted peanut butter & jelly + vintage sparkling champagne 197.00

Chilled Mixed Seafood Platter
mango butter lobster + chipotle shrimp + blue point oysters with green apple -black pepper mignonette 87.00

The restaurant sells very few peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with a bottle of champagne, however they sell quite a few of the chilled mixed seafood platters. Anchoring works when you put the most expensive item first. After that the item in place after the most expensive appears to be a much better value.

2. The One Point Font Change CTA

Here’s another easy one that basically uses how our brains are naturally wired to focus in on a menu item we want to increase sales on. The oldest part of our brain is commonly referred to as the reptilian brain. This part of your brain is responsible for a lot of your survival mechanisms like the fight or flight response. It's hardwired to notice things out of the normal, such as, "Is that a saber tooth tiger about to eat me?"

Just as our brains can play tricks on us, we can play tricks to draw the eye to exactly where we want on the menu. Take a look at these items:

From The Grill....Steaks & More!

24 oz. buffalo ribeye
roasted garlic mashed + baby carrots + merlot reduction 42

the ribeye
16 oz. center cut steak + achiote potatoes + haricot vert + red wine butter sauce 35

roasted poblano & veal meatloaf
mashed potatoes + sautéed mushrooms + cabernet demi + red chile onion rings 20

brown sugar cured beef tenderloin
our signature steak!
8 oz. hand cut filet + wild mushroom enchiladas + fire roasted corn & pepper demi 28

pine nut crusted pork chop
12 oz. cut bone-in + roasted potato-vegetable mélange + red chile cream + parsnip chips 24

bourbon roasted chicken
potato-parsnip puree + baby carrots + natural jus 22

Does any item stand out? The text size for most entrées on this example is 16 points. This restaurant’s number one seller is the brown sugar cured beef tenderloin. There, the text size is 17 points. A one point font change causes the brain to take a second look. That second look gives the entrée another impression in the brain and many times, that’s all it takes.

3. The Bold Word

Remembering menu psychology, such as the fact that the brain scans menus rather truly reading them, you can assist and guide your guests by using a simple technique to draw focus to keywords.

Take a look at the following menu items:

kobe beef sliders
green chile +cheddar cheese + chipotle ketchup 9

lobster wontons
butter poached lobster + poblano cream cheese + sweet chili dipping sauce 12

cornmeal dusted calamari
tomato-basil sauce + lemon zest aioli 11

baked brie
roasted garlic cloves + apricot-green chile chutney + melba sauce 10

Now look at them again:

kobe beef sliders
green chile +cheddar cheese + chipotle ketchup 9

lobster wontons
butter poached lobster + poblano cream cheese + sweet chili dipping sauce 12

cornmeal dusted calamari
tomato-basil sauce + lemon zest aioli 11

baked brie
roasted garlic cloves + apricot-green chile chutney + melba sauce 10

The eyes focus in on the words you want the guest to find easily. Make your menu easy for the guest to find what they’re looking for and they will buy. Another cool technique is to take out the comma (,) between ingredients and instead use the plus sign (+). Most of us have been conditioned to know that the + means addition. So in the case of the lobster wontons, the brain reads: lobster wontons: I get butter poached lobster plus poblano cream cheese plus sweet chili dipping sauce for only $12, that’s a deal!

These Jedi menu tricks work best when it is a very clean and easy to read font (Sans Serif work very well). Stay away from cursive or funky fonts that make it difficult for the guest to read. The bottom line is to design your menu to make it easy for the guest to comprehend and see even in the romantic lighting of your dining room at 8 PM.

All menus are great when we’re looking at them under the bright lights of an office. The true test is to take the menu into your dining room and take a look at it under real-world circumstances and see if it’s just as easy to read. You might just be shocked at the difference, especially when you can track menu items' profitability with menu software.

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