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6 Menu Tricks Restaurants Are Using to Get You to Spend More

There’s a reason why some menus don’t include dollar signs.

Ever go to a restaurant and notice that its menu doesn't include dollar signs next to the prices? Or have you ever gone out for a meal only to realize that only one dish on the menu has a graphic next to it? As it turns out, these are not just coincidences. These methods or mind tricks can actually can get you to spend more.

This may sound surprising for those who are not familiar, but there's actually a whole world of menu engineering (also known as menu psychology) that goes on behind the scenes. This means that every aspect of a restaurant's menu—from food descriptions and price formatting, to design—has been carefully developed to help drive and maximize sales. Even if you don't notice it, every time you go out for a meal a restaurant's menu is actively trying to get you to spend more.

From table talkers to barbell pricing, read below for some common restaurant menu tricks that can get you to spend more.

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Barbell Pricing

asian man reading menu

Restaurants are revisiting a classic menu trick when it comes to selling food amidst rising inflation—barbell pricing. Barbell pricing, which has been used for years, is when a restaurant highlights both promotional deals and expensive items on its menu. Its goal is to appeal to both higher-income and lower-income customers.

Popular chains that have utilized this strategy recently include Chili's, Red Robin, Denny's, and Del Taco. In fact, according to Restaurant Business, mentions of barbell pricing have spiked on earnings calls this year, with execs of eight publicly traded chains naming the menu strategy in recent earnings calls.

Table Talkers

afreebing / Tripadvisor

Those small printed flip cards you often see on restaurant chain tables aren't just there for decoration—they also serve a purpose. Acting as an additional menu that never leaves the table, these items, called table talkers, often highlight perfectly photographed cocktails and delicious dishes. Its goal? To get you to order more.

Value Menus

Chili's food and drinks
Chili's Grill & Bar / Facebook

Some restaurants have come up with a sneaky, roundabout way to get their customers to spend more money by introducing value menus. Although it sounds like a deal, there's actually more to it than meets the eye.

For instance, Chili's has recently done away with its discounts and instead now offers a revamped value menu which includes an entree, appetizer, and drink deal, offered at three different price points—$10.99, $13.99, and $15.99. The most expensive option includes additional choices, such as a sirloin steak, whereas customer favorites, such as fajitas, are only available if ordered a la carte from the regular menu.

The restaurant hopes that setting up the menus like this will encourage restaurantgoers to either choose the highest price tier of the value menu, or not order off the value menu altogether. This equals more profit.



Photographs and illustrations on a menu aren't just there to look pretty, they can also help drum up sales. According to the late Gregg Rapp, coined the restaurant industry's original menu engineer, menu graphics act as visual cues that can help highlight which dishes the restaurant wants to sell most.

Based on his research, he found that including a photograph can raise the sales of an item up to 30%, when there is just one photograph on the menu page. He did also point out, however, that photographs can sometimes cheapen a menu—so if you're at a high-end eatery and notice the lack of imagery, there's a reason for that, too.

Not Using Dollar Signs

menu tricks

Nope, the absence of dollar signs on a menu isn't a mistake—it's actually a common menu engineering tactic that establishments use to help sell more food.

Through his work, Rapp discovered that using dollar signs or including the word "dollar" on a menu causes the customer to focus on cost instead of food. Because of this, you may notice that many restaurants will include the price of the dish, without dollar signs, two spaces after the dish description in the same font and style. This is done to help draw less attention to how expensive dishes are.

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Details, details, details

open menu with photos and description of dishes

Ever read a menu and notice that instead of just simply listing out dish names a restaurant will include elaborate, detailed language for each? For instance, "spaghetti and meatballs" becomes "housemade pasta tossed in rustic tomato-garlic sauce, served with organic grass-fed thyme-infused meatballs."

According to Restaurant365, restaurants not only do this to help the customer paint a picture of the dish but to also help distract them from how much they're spending. It's also believed that a more intricate description can help command a higher price.

Brittany Natale
Brittany Natale is a food and lifestyle writer. Read more about Brittany
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