How to avoid being fooled by a menu

by on December 11, 2009 at 5:32 pm in Food and Drink | Permalink

This one is not so easily excerptable, but it's one of the best pieces-with-graphics I've seen all year.  It's about all the "nudge" tricks which go into designing menus, and how to avoid being fooled by them.

You really do need the image with it (best is to buy the New York issue), but if you insist on an excerpt, here's one:

5. Columns Are Killers
According to Brandon O’Dell, one of the consultants Poundstone quotes in Priceless, it’s a big mistake to list prices in a straight column. “Customers will go down and choose from the cheapest items,” he says. At least the Balthazar menu doesn’t use leader dots to connect the dish to the price; that draws the diner’s gaze right to the numbers. Consultant Gregg Rapp tells clients to “omit dollar signs, decimal points, and cents†‰…†‰It’s not that customers can’t check prices, but most will follow whatever subtle cues are provided.”

Bob Montgomery December 11, 2009 at 5:42 pm

A nice short read but criminy, couldn’t they have made the pic just a little bigger so it was legible?

Scoop December 11, 2009 at 6:16 pm

Why do they keep the plow horses or, at least, why don’t they price them such that they make a decent margin? I realize that some things will always be more profitable than others, but I cannot imagine running a business and offering a product/service that I hoped customers would actually avoid.

Bob: Media outlets that lavish time and effort in making each printed page a unique visual feast think it absurd overkill to hire artistically minded people who can actually write HTML/CSS (or even use Dreamweaver) so they buy “content management systems” that have one or two templates that must serve for each and every item, no matter what its visual requirements. Worse, these templates always call for really tiny and blurry visuals because everyone creates Web pages that will load quickly for people who still have dial up Internet service. (Why they care about this dwindling and economically unappealing demographic, I was never able to figure out.)

As a result, Web pages look way worse than printed pages and publishers wonder why advertisers don’t want to pay as much for them.

astonerii December 11, 2009 at 8:00 pm

Frank makes a good point, and you would think that in order to get repeat customers, you would want them to be able to easily find a dish they both enjoy eating and at a price they are happy to part with, plus tip. Unless these restaurants make their money primarily on one time customers.

Rob Ross December 11, 2009 at 8:53 pm

Very interesting connection to “Predictably Irrational.” Consumers make decisions based on the available options, so if you structure the options in a smart way, and present them in a smart way, you can nudge them in the direction you want. Say, towards dishes that have high profit margins. Check out: http://www.predictablyirrational.com/

Andrew December 11, 2009 at 11:58 pm

Should you:

A) Not go, realizing you are probably not in a position to game them?
B) Go and do your best to obtain the best subjective value?
C) Go and try to order what you think will give them the lowest profit/highest loss?
D) Other?

Ricardo December 12, 2009 at 4:54 am

Consultant Gregg Rapp tells clients to “omit dollar signs, decimal points, and cents†‰†¦†‰It’s not that customers can’t check prices, but most will follow whatever subtle cues are provided.†

Yet again demonstrating the wisdom of Stuff White People Like. Menus with no decimal places:

You can always spot the chic white person as they sit in the padded seats of a nice quaint, posh restaurant staring at the menus. When the other person asks, “What are you having tonight, James?† the reply can often be found to be, “I’m having the Lobster Pillows with Crab Demi-Glaze. It’s only 12.†³ That’s right, white people have grown to love restaurants with such advanced math calculations as getting rid of those pesky decimals and something that is more aesthetically pleasing to our eyes and pocketbooks.

anonymous December 12, 2009 at 11:44 am

Scoop,

There’s a simple reason to offer “plowhorses” on a menu: any single person within a large party of potential customers could veto the entire group going to your restaurant if there’s nothing on the menu to their liking or within their budget. And after all they might order highly-profitable drinks or dessert.

Re: your other point: Amazon did some empirical tests, and astonishingly enough, introducing even an imperceptibly tiny fraction of a second delay in page-load times had a directly measurable effect on revenue. Google also found much the same thing. Google even went so far as to omit the closing “/html” tag in webpages because all known browsers worked fine without it.

John Pertz December 12, 2009 at 5:05 pm

I think restaurants foolishly offer way too many choices out of fear that they will not have enough of an offering to attract enough customers.

However, my experience with some of the more appreciated New York restaurants has been to give the customer less choice, better executed dishes, with ingredients that customers may not be completely familiar with.

For my money this has made going out in New York a heck of a lot more exciting.

techpops December 14, 2009 at 12:28 am

If i hit a site that doesn’t let me sort by price, that site gets booted immediately. I think of lot of people do the same thing, or at least choose sites that do let them sort by price over ones that do not.

So while you can chart all day long how visitors deal with prices on your site, those charts mean very little when weighed against visitors not becoming customers in the first place or not returning favouring other more sensibly usable sites.

Resignation Letters January 6, 2010 at 1:56 am

Some restaurants use only text in their menus. In other cases, restaurants include illustrations and photos, either of the dishes or of an element of the culture which is associated with the restaurant. An example of the latter is in cases where a Lebanese kebab restaurant decorates its menu with photos of Lebanese mountains and beaches.

spill kits January 13, 2010 at 11:21 pm

By using a flat LCD screen and a computer server, menus can be digitally displayed allowing moving images, animated effects and the ability to edit details and prices.

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It’s only 12.†³ That’s right, white people have grown to love restaurants with such advanced math calculations as getting rid of those pesky decimals and something that is more aesthetically pleasing to our eyes and pocketbooks.

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