The Secret Psychology of Restaurant Menu Design

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By: Rachel Lescano

December 16, 2019

01

TLDR

I’m a foodie and more often than not will welcome whatever clever tactics restaurants use if it means enhancing my dining experience. However, as a designer, it’s interesting to learn the power that menu design has on decision-making. It’s also useful to know the ways restaurants may manipulate diners to spend more or try certain menu items. Here are some tips so you can appreciate the power of design and beware the mighty menu.

The Dollar Sign Illusion

Many menus will opt out of including dollar signs when pricing items. This takes away the perceived value of items and makes diners feel as though they aren’t spending a lot of money, subconsciously making them spend more. The human brain is weird.

Placing prices in their own column draws attention to them and encourages the consumer to make their decision based on cost instead of reading each description and considering all of their options. To combat this, many menu designers tuck the prices with the title or description of the menu item. Some menus even display the number written out as a word, which seems to have a similar effect.

This menu sets the dollar sign-free price alongside the dish name in a lighter typeface so that the price is clearly displayed but does not command immediate attention.

The Decoy Dish

Some menus deceive diners by including a more expensive “decoy” item. This tricky maneuver makes all the other dishes seem like a bargain, subconsciously making restaurant-goers rationalize their spending and encouraging them to spend more on the “less expensive” options. Decoy dishes are highly debatable among restaurateurs as many believe it’s highly manipulative and don’t want to waste valuable menu space on an item consumers probably won’t order.
It’s possible this tea shop uses the “Mocha Sippa” as a decoy item, making the rest of the menu items appear more affordable.

The Sweet Spot

When we first look at a menu, our eyes tend to immediately glance to the upper right corner of the page, scan to the middle, and finally land at the upper left corner. This is known as the “golden triangle” or the sweet spots of the menu. Designers typically place the dishes with the highest profit margins in these three areas.
Menu designers also take advantage of our tendency to crave open, breathable space by placing large profit dishes in their own dedicated space, creating an “eye magnet”.

This menu draws the eye to the areas with boxed sections or unique illustrations.

The Rise of Comma Cuisine

A trend in restaurant branding that is more interesting than it is manipulative is the shift in copy. Though descriptive language is more effective for certain restaurants, several are now erring on the side of simplicity. With the rise of farm-to-table and ingredient-focused brands comes “comma cuisine”, where the ingredients speak for themselves and are simply listed under a dish.

Flipper’s reputation for fresh ingredients is perfect for the utilization of the comma cuisine trend, giving their ingredients the attention they deserve.

321 is passionate about creating unique and effective brand identities. Contact us if you are interested in collaborating with us on your restaurant branding or rebranding project.

Written By

+ Rachel Lescano

Creative

Rachel is a Creative at 321 and our resident foodie. She is fascinated by the collision of design and food that establishes a restaurant brand’s personality. When Rachel is not designing or eating, you can find her ogling over her lucky black cat Mika or wish-shopping on Airbnb.

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