The Dollar-Wise Gourmet: How To Read a Menu


Are you subconsciously sucked in by a menu’s design? Sharpen your dollar-wise skills by becoming menu-wise. Here are some tricks used by clever restaurateurs to part you from your hard-earned cash.

They take your eye where they want it to go
“A good menu is engineered in such a way that it draws attention to certain components to drive sales,” says Tom Bruce, who offers menu engineering and graphic design expertise through his company, Sacramento Food & Beverage. The center of the menu is the first place your eye travels, Bruce says, so smart marketers strategically place the priciest items there.

They hide the price

Ever get so enthralled by a mouthwatering description that you almost forget about the price? Exactly. When the price is tucked in after a description, Bruce explains, the consumer gets caught up in the culinary come-on instead of the cost. It’s an approach being used more and more, Bruce says, replacing the old “laundry list” method in which items are aligned to the left and prices to the right.

They don’t use dollar signs
Deleting the dollar sign is another menu trend, says Bruce, and there’s a reason: It’s been shown to increase sales. A recent study by Cornell University’s Center for Hospitality Research found that when that one little symbol is removed, the average check zooms up by $5.55.

They grab you with graphics

Bold lines, color and other graphic gimmicks are all visual ticklers used to draw your attention to higher-priced items—and increase sales.

They seduce you with words

Words such as savory and succulent, especially when used at the start of a description, are designed to get you salivating and spending money.