Creating a successful menu is the one of the most important tasks a restaurant can undertake. It needs to tread a fine line between attracting and pleasing customers whilst also taking into account the need to generate a profit. Restaurants spend huge amounts of time and money optimising and perfecting their menus.
How Your Favourite Restaurant Uses Neuromarketing To Influence What You Order
According to a Gallop poll, people spend an average of 109 seconds looking at a menu. Restaurants know this and will organise their menu in a way to make every second count. Menus need to be easily digestible (excuse the pun) but still convey the appearance of choice.

Most successful restaurants these days use knowledge of neuromarketing to try and persuade customers to order certain dishes (the ones with the highest margins, of course). Most people know about the wine list trick – restaurants will often put a high-margin wine as the second most expensive on the menu as people don’t want to appear cheap and order the cheapest – but what other tactics do they use?

A cognitive bias is defined as a tendency to think in a certain way that deviates from logical or rational thinking — in simple terms, these cognitive biases can cause us to make some questionable decisions and draw erroneous conclusions.

Six ways restaurants use cognitive biases to influence customers:

Menu order: Studies have shown that people are more likely to order items at the beginning of a list (one study found that 35% of diners will order the very first item!). Therefore, restaurants often put their highest margin dishes at the top of the menu. Conversely, they will reduce visibility of lower margin items by putting them lower down or on the back of the menu. This is known as the “Serial Position Effect”.

Paradox of choice: This is a cognitive bias in which having too much choice can in fact lead individuals to reach less satisfactory decisions than they would have if presented with less choice. A smaller, targeted menu means you have more chance of persuading them to opt for higher margin dishes.

Adding decoy items: Adding a similarly priced but inferior dish, or a more expensive dish, to the menu makes the other dishes seem more attractive in comparison.
Removing the currency signs: You may have noticed the recent trend for menu prices without the currency symbol and in round amounts. This is no accident: pricing your steak at 22 rather than £21.75 or $21.99 minimizes the association with money and reduces the “pain of paying”, another known cognitive bias.

Layout: Restaurants take advantage of the so-called “Golden Triangle” – readers eyes’ are first drawn to the middle of the menu, then the top right and then the top left. Restaurants take this into account when laying out the menu and will often supplement it with visual aides like borders and shading to draw readers’ attention in a particular direction.

Creative descriptions: Research has shown that adding the names of mothers, grandmothers and other relatives to the names of dishes makes them more appealing.This is related to the Metaphor Effect in which we understand and more easily remember language that activates our imagination. You’ll therefore see plenty of restaurants calling dishes things like “Grandma’s homemade Apple Pie”. You’ll also find liberal use of meaningless but appealing adjectives like “country ham” and “farm fresh eggs” (aren’t all eggs farm fresh?).

How to apply similar neuromarketing principles to your website

It’s not just the restaurant business that can take advantage of cognitive biases and use neuromarketing to influence customers’ behaviour.

Convertize is a new piece of software that uses neuromarketing and consumer psychology to suggest persuasion tactics that can then be implemented and A/B tested at the click of a button. It’s easy to set up and doesn’t require any coding to run experiments (so no need for expensive web developers). They also have a team of neuromarketing experts that can provide expertise and guidance.

Convertize offers over 250 neuromarketing tactics which can be applied easily to your website in order to maximise your conversions.