Tuesday, 16 October 2012

The Menu, lessons for your brochure?

We all know restaurants are under huge pressure in this recession. Unlike most in retail, they still have a very important card to play – the menu. It’s an opportunity to place an advertisement in every customer’s hand before they part with their money and in any business that’s priceless. However, menus don’t just work on price and the route to the customers heart may not be through the stomach or wallet, but the subconscious. Menus are specifically designed to quietly influence your selection and here is some of the ways it’s done.

One popular technique is Decoy Marketing, basically increasing the price of one item, to make sure the item you really want to sell looks like good value. This can then be combined with careful layouts. Eye tracking studies have shown that when customers open a menu, their eyes go right to the top of the page on the right side. Armed with that knowledge, chefs place the menu item that will give them the most profit at the top of the page. Then, your eyes normally drift to the center of the page. That’s where many chefs place their absolutely most expensive item (decoy). The customer is not expected to buy that item, but the psychology of menus indicates the customer will then glance again at the top items and order one of those. After all, it now looks like good value.

Wine lists are notorious for decoy sellers. Research shows that customers shy away from the most expensive item, or the least expensive, for that matter, the second-most expensive bottle on a wine list tends to be a top seller.

We know that symbols cause behavioral changes particularly money signs (£, €, $, etc). That is why we see actual cash notes and the amount displayed with a big ‘£’ sign on game show competitions every week. The potential reward feels like real money. This works in reverse when we are paying for something, for example some people find it mentally easier to pay by credit card than hand over actual cash. Menu designers try to minimize pricing cues that might remind people they are paying real money for their meal. A study published by Dr. Kimes at Cornell University found that when prices were given with dollar signs, customers spent less than when no dollar signs appeared and apparently even the word “dollar” triggered this “the pain of paying”. We spend more when we see ‘10’ than ‘£10’. To keep it low key, the price should also be at the very end of a menu description and should not be in any way highlighted.

Research also suggests brand names help sales. Restaurants are increasingly using what is known as co-branding on their menus, hence you will see a ‘Darn of Aberdeen Salmon’ on a menu beside ‘Cod in Crispy Guinness Batter’. You can almost taste the quality.

This description can be taken a step further. It is shown that vivid adjectives not only sway the customer’s choice but can also leave them more satisfied at the end of the meal, than if they had eaten the same item without descriptive labeling. Hence we see language that suggests expertise and satisfaction. This is why we see dishes described as “handcrafted,” “triple-basted,” “slow-cooked,”, “homemade” and “slammed with flavor.”

Getting back to the layout, a few basic techniques work very well. Our eyes are drawn to boxes, and customers are statistically more likely to order whatever is inside them. Incidentally you will also see this in newspaper advertisements. This is yet another way to guide you into buying the most profitable items.

When prices are printed in neat, right-justified columns, customers glance down the line to compare prices. If you want people to avoid the cheapest option, a centered justification leaves the prices scattered and very difficult to compare. This gently encourages the customer to order what they want, not pick the cheapest price.

Next time you are ordering in a restaurant, see if you can spot a few of these techniques. It will give you something to talk about over the meal, in case your dinner date turns out to be bit of a bore.

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