There are many psychological tricks restaurants use in order to determine the customers to spend more money. We may be able to detect some of them, but there certainly are some methods used quite often that have never crossed our minds before.
Studies have shown the price presentation on menus has a significant importance. When the prices are represented as plain numbers people tend to spend more money than in the case when the prices are written out in words or when the prices are accompanied by a dollar sign. Studies have shown that a reason for this is the fact that people are prevented from actually thinking about how much money the order will cost.
Descriptive menu labels also influence the costumers. In an experiment involving 140 participants, descriptive menu labels (such as “Uncle John’s tasty burger” instead of simply “Burger”) increased sales by 27% and improved attitudes towards the food and the restaurant, positively influencing the consumers’ evaluation.
A 2012 study has shown that people believe they consume a larger quantity of food when eating from a small plate and underestimate the portions when eating from a bigger plate. A reason for this is the effect of the Delboeuf Illusion’s bias on eating behavior.
The Delboeuf’s illusion is an optical illusion which makes people wrongly perceive the size of objects. The best-known example is that two circles of the same size appear smaller or bigger when surrounded by two rings of different sizes, with the circle surrounded by a smaller ring appearing bigger and the one surrounded by a bigger ring appearing smaller. Restaurants make us of this optical illusion and choose to serve the food on larger platters to determine the clients to order more. On the other hand, all-you-can-eat buffets keep their tableware small so that the clients have the sensation that they have consumed a larger quantity of food.
Shape of the glass
A study has shown that people serving beverages in containers that do not match their expectations report a less pleasant experience and, consequently, are not willing to pay as much as in the case when beverages are served in containers congruent with their expectancy. In this study, 61 participants evaluated beer, orange juice and hot chocolate served in a glass, a bottle and a cup. The results indicated that the beverages were rated as significantly more pleasant when served in the container which matched the consumers’ expectancy.
Besides providing a pleasant or unpleasant experience, the shape of glasses can also influence the quantity of the liquid consumed. Experiments show that people consume 88% more beverage when it is served in a short, wide glass than when it’s served in a tall, slender glass. A reason for this may be the horizontal-vertical illusion, where vertical lines seem longer than horizontal ones.
Another study showed that people consume more beer when it is placed in a curved glass. In case of straight glasses, participants were 60% slower to consume their drinks and thus did not order a new beverage. The reason for this is that our brains tend to judge how much liquid is left based on how far up the glass it reaches, even if the glass is much wider at the top. The participants misjudged the half-way point of a curved glass, finished their beverages earlier than expected and asked for a refill.
Evidence suggests that wine’s taste is influenced by music and so restaurants can manipulate which type of wine we choose to buy, how much money we are likely to spend and how quickly we drink. When participants in a study tasted wine in silence or in company of mismatching music, they reported the wine to be less tasty. The enjoyment of the wine increased when the music was described as ‘powerful and heavy’, ‘subtle and refined’, ‘zingy and refreshing’, or ‘mellow and soft’. There are many other studies which suggest that music and lighting conditions may affect the way food and drinks’ taste is perceived.
Plating and shape symbolism
Restaurants can influence the taste of food and drinks based on how they serve it. Shape symbolism, which leads to the association of roundness with sweetness and angles with bitterness, plays an important role. In one study, participants were given two identical pieces of chocolate in terms of composition, but with different shapes. The participants reported significant differences regarding the sweetness, bitterness, creaminess of the chocolates and evaluated the round chocolate as tastier.
Plating is another element that restaurants do not neglect. In 2014, some experimental psychologists at the University of Oxford conducted a study on 60 participants who were asked to rate three salads. The salads consisted of the same ingredients, dressing and condiments, but were arranged differently: in the first case, the ingredients of the salad were lined up in rows; in the second, the salad was typically arranged in the middle of the plate; in the third, the salad was arranged like Wassily Kandinsky’s Painting No. 201. The salad which was arranged like a painting was rated 29% tastier and the participants were willing to pay twice as much for it.
Hopefully, by knowing more about how our minds work will lead to us being less easily manipulated. If you want to learn more about how our biases influence our decisions, I recommend this article.