6 Menu Mind Games Restaurants Don’t Want You to Know About
The $98 entrée is a con
Nothing beats a reservation at your favorite tapas spot on a Friday night. But before you order, beware these six common menu mind games, designed to make you over-order (and, worse, overspend).
IF FOOD HAS A PHOTO, YOU’RE MORE LIKELY TO ORDER IT
Restaurants know: If the description for lobster mac and cheese is attached to an image (or even a teeny tiny illustration) on the menu, there’s a much greater chance you’re going to order it. Why? Talk is cheap. A pretty visual lures you in quick before you have time to think twice about the price.
THE CHEAPEST MENU ITEMS ARE LISTED LAST FOR A REASON
You know there’s a $7 burger on the menu somewhere. But listing it at the very bottom, beneath all the other entrées, means you’ll have to spend several precious minutes salivating over pricier food items first, a tactic that can successfully sway your ordering decisions. (Whatever, the bacon-wrapped pork loin is only $5 more.)
THE $98 ENTRÉE IS ACTUALLY A DECOY
If the platter of locally harvested oysters seems outrageously overpriced, that’s because it is. Here’s the logic: A menu item priced almost three times higher than the rest makes the $30 to 40 options seem like a steal in comparison, right? And it works both ways. Some people actually order the $98 option because, damn, it must be special if there’s that much of a price gap.
DISHES THAT COME IN TWO DIFFERENT PORTION SIZES ARE ANOTHER TRAP
There’s no greater pressure than having to choose between half and full portions of Bolognese. Restaurants know this, which is why they use this tactic to trick you into trading up, even if the smaller portion size is fine. (Another reason to ask your server to mime the size of each dish before you confirm your order.)
BEWARE ANYTHING THAT’S BOXED
Menu boxes are the restaurant equivalent to impulse buys at the shopping register. They’re designed to call attention to inexpensive meal supplements (like a delicious side of rosemary potatoes or grilled broccoli rabe) that won’t cost much but seem to add a ton of value to your meal. (Cha-ching.)
ALSO, ANY RECIPES FROM “GRANDMA”
Ordering “Grandma’s Secret Meatloaf” off the menu is a no-brainer, right? Not necessarily. The idea of a secret family recipe that’s been passed down from one generation to the next is a tough one for diners to resist. That’s why they sometimes use it to describe an entrée, even if--gasp--it's not actually true. Sorry, Grandma.