Last Updated:
April 19, 2022

How to use restaurant menu psychology to get more sales

A good menu increases sales and makes customers happy. We spoke with dozens of restauranteurs to provide the best tips on how to optimize your menu.
How to use restaurant menu psychology to get more sales
Pamela Romano
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If you work in the restaurant industry, then you know how important it is to have a great menu. A good menu can help increase sales and make customers happy, while a bad one will lead to low profits and disgruntled diners. If you are struggling with your menu design or if you are looking for new ideas on how to improve the atmosphere of your restaurant, then this blog post has some great information that might be helpful!

What is menu psychology

A menu psychology is the study of how a restaurant's menu can influence people to spend more money. There are many tactics that restaurants use, some even have a "menu engineer" who helps them make sure they optimize their menus.

Menu engineering can be applied to any type of restaurant, from fast food places like McDonald’s to fine dining establishments such as Michelin-starred restaurants. The goal with this technique is for the customer to look at a menu and instantly know which dish they want without having to think too hard about it or even have an idea what that dish might cost them!

A restaurant will sometimes include items on the menu that are higher priced than other items. They do this so people have more options to choose from; and for those who want a fancier meal, they can order these dishes. This is called "price anchoring" because it anchors customers' minds at a certain price point.

In this post we will look at some examples of strategies used in restaurant menus and how you can apply them to your restaurant.

How do restaurants use psychology to increase sales

One way that restaurants use psychology to increase their revenues is by including a higher priced item on the menu.

This makes people feel like they have options- for example, if it's steak night and someone wants chicken instead of beef, they can order a dish at this price point.

This achieves two things: firstly, it "anchors" customers to a certain price point. Secondly, it makes people consider spending more money because they've seen that the options go up to this price level.

Let's explore how you can apply these tactics to your own menu.

The first thing is to think about the different price ranges for each dish on your menu and what dishes should be included under those categories. For example, if you are a coffee shop with a breakfast menu, you might want to have a meal deal and then some single items.

The second thing is to think about the size of your dishes- for example, if someone orders an appetizer as their main dish at dinner, they are likely going to order something smaller than what would be considered "a full portion". This may mean that you want to consider having some larger dishes and smaller ones so people can order a variety.

What should a restaurant menu include

When designing a menu, there are some things that you should include.

First and foremost, you need to have pictures of the food on your menu- this is what will help customers know exactly what they're ordering before they order it or see it in person. This also gives a sense of comfort, making customers know what to expect from their order.

Along with section titles like "Appetizers" and "Salads," a menu engineer is responsible for incorporating prices for each dish. Studies have found that using prices on menus can also help to increase sales, in part because it gives customers the opportunity to decide before they place an order whether or not they want a pricier dish.

The heart of the economic model of eating out is price; but many restaurateurs will use tricks to get you to spend more money on their meals. One trend is for restaurants to remove currency signs from their menus, which can result in people spending up to 30% more. Beware if prices are written out in letters instead of figures as this tactic has been shown to increase spending by up to 15%.

For example, instead of just listing a sandwich for 12 dollars, you might see it listed as 12.00 or even just 12 (without the dollar sign!). The average customer will buy more when they see how much less the item is costing them!

Other tricks include making portions smaller and more expensive, or doubling the price of a dish that's on sale. Restaurants also manipulate their menus with psychological pricing strategies such as "anchoring" where they make high prices stand out visually while low prices are less noticeable.

Finally, you should have a meal description- this is important because often people won't know how to pronounce something or what it means and if they don't know that, then they may not order it.

As we've got these three key components down for designing your menu, let's dive deeper and explore some other ways restaurant menus can be designed for optimal sales.

How restaurants use psychology to make you spend more money

There are a lot of psychology tactics that restaurants use to make you spend more money- and it's important for your menu design purposes, too. However, you do not need to be a menu designer to have a successful outcome, since all you need are a few tips and tricks to level up your menu's appearance and functionality.

One common tactic is "price anchoring" or including items on the menu at different price points so customers can see they have options when they order.

A restaurant might include something like tartare as an option on the menu because many people associate higher prices with better quality food. However, if there were no other high priced dishes offered on their menus, then this could backfire and actually make them lose sales because it would look like an expensive dish only exists just to tempt potential buyers!

Alongside these pricier foods should be low cost options such as appetizers or desserts in case people want to order something small.

Another way restaurants use psychology is by using a "limited-time offer" which can compel people to buy right away and not wait until later. The restaurant will usually include a date for when the offer ends to create urgency, which encourages customers to dine with their taste buds instead of with their wallets. Limited-time offers also provide restaurants with a quick high-profit item which can be introduced a couple times a year and test out future menu item ideas that may become your menu staples.

Restaurant menu psychology is an important aspect of designing your own menu- just make sure you know what you're doing before you try using these tactics, because it can backfire if customers think they're being manipulated or tricked into buying!

"The first thing is to think about the different price ranges for each dish on your menu and what dishes should be included under those categories." - Angelo Esposito

How to create an effective restaurant menu

The foundation for an effective menu is a simple structure. Lets see what you can do more specifically below.

Analyze your menu items

The first rule is to think about the different price ranges for each dish on your menu and what dishes should be included under those categories.

Along with section titles like "Appetizers" and "Salads," menu engineering involves incorporating prices and structuring it in a way customers can find dishes easily on a menu. All items in a given section of the menu should be priced similarly, often using ascending or descending order.

For example, appetizers might start at $12 and go up to $25; salads could range from $18-$35 while entrees would typically not exceed that upper limit (depending on how expensive you want them to appear). Be weary when it comes to pricing, since customers may decide to visit your restaurant or not based on the dollar sign. When placing a meal's description below its corresponding value, use either small caps text or italics so it stands out more as well as adding prices to match common psychology principles we discussed earlier.

The best way to start designing a new restaurant menu is with an understanding of the popularity and profitability of each dish on it. The more popular dishes are, the higher they should be priced (typically).

A good rule-of-thumb for pricing food is that profits will often increase as the price goes up by $5 or less per item. So if one entree costs $25, then another might cost $30 but not exceed this limit. You'll also need to keep in mind things like how much time and effort went into making each dish when determining its final value.

If you're unsure what prices work well together, research other restaurants in your area and their menus to get a feel for the pricing that would work well. The goal is to offer something at every price point so customers can see they have options when they order.

The second rule of menu engineering is to observe your food costs. Restaurants with food costs that are significantly higher than average tend to do so in order to achieve a specific goal- either they're trying to be more exclusive and command a higher price, or they're just trying to cut corners on quality while still having an expensive item.

If you need help with your food costs you can always read more in this article here on how to calculate food costs!

The third rule of menu engineering is to make sure you always have a profitable menu. This should include understanding your target demographic and what items would be profitable for them alongside your less popular dishes. Your dishes should also be priced according to the psychology of the customer in order to encourage them into buying something.

Understand the popularity and profitability of your menu items

When determining prices for a new menu, it's important to keep in mind the popularity and profitability of each dish on it. The more popular dishes are, the higher they should be priced (typically), but there is no set rule because some restaurants charge less than others do!

A good rule-of-thumb for pricing food is that profits will often increase as the price goes up by $0.50 or less per item, but this can vary depending on what type of restaurant you have and how much time went into making each dish!

It's also important to keep in mind food costs when pricing any menu item. Restaurants with higher than average food costs typically do so because they're either trying to be more exclusive and command a higher price or because they are just cutting corners on quality while still having an expensive price tag.

Similarly, keep in mind the psychology of your customer when pricing each dish- there's no use charging $16 for something that you know most people won't buy! But if it's priced at $13, for example, you'll find that customers are much more likely to buy it.

The goal is always to have a profitable menu and this often means understanding your target demographic (young professionals or middle-aged families) and what dishes they'd be more likely to buy. It also means pricing your dishes according to the psychology of each customer so they feel inclined into spending their money!

5 restaurant techniques that encourage people into buying something

There are many different ways restaurants can influence or encourage customers to spend more money:) Use a sense of scarcity.

This is done by either offering less than what people are expecting, or making it seem like items may go out-of-stock soon if they don't buy them now!

1) Use a sense of scarcity.

This is done by either offering less than what people are expecting, or making it seem like items may go out-of-stock soon if they don't buy them now!

2) The affect heuristic.

This encourages us to purchase something because we feel like it's being given to us as a bargain or because we've seen other people purchase the same thing.

3) The reciprocity rule.

This is the idea that if you give something to someone, they'll feel obligated or inclined to do something in return for you. This is often used by restaurant owners in order to encourage customers to purchase more food. For example, a restaurant may offer a free appetizer for customers who order an entree and drink. The goal of this is to get customers to purchase an additional dish even if they wouldn't have otherwise. It's a subtle advantage that will end up turning into many more!

4) The loss aversion principle.

This is the idea that we are more sensitive to losses than gains and will do anything in order to avoid them- even if it means making a purchase. For example, a restaurant may advertise that they're giving away free dessert for customers who dine there. This is done to encourage them into purchasing an additional dish because they don't want to miss out on the dessert.

5) The sunk-cost bias.

This is the idea that people are more likely to spend money on things they've already invested in, even if it's not the best option. For example, a restaurant may offer customers a "buy one entree and get another for free" deal- but only if they purchase both meals at the same time. This is done to encourage them into purchasing an additional dish that they may not have otherwise ordered.

Restructuring and redesigning your menu

Restaurants that have a large menu end up confusing their customers and making it hard to come into the restaurant. Just because you can make a dish, doesn't mean you should put it on your menu!

It's also important not to overwhelm your customer with too many dishes either- this will cause them to spend more time trying to decide what they want which may lead them in spending less money than if they were able to quickly scan through all of the food items. The last thing you want is the burden of choice.

The goal is always for people to be happy while ordering from your kitchen and investing their money in some delicious cuisine; so keep these tips in mind when designing or restructuring your next menu!

To design a proper menu that gets people to spend more money, examine past sales. If your restaurant does really well in the evenings but not so much during lunch try designing variations of lighter fare for lunch and dishes with a few distinctive ingredients for dinner.

At the beginning of the process, we first analyze sales for all items on a menu. With this information in hand, we can make certain assumptions about what customers are ordering and adjust our offering to respond to these trends. Menu planners will often ask themselves: "What foods are my customers seeking?" or "Are they looking for something more upscale? Less expensive? Local fare?"

What items actually sell, and which items are actually profitable. Look for trends in sales: like what items sell more during lunch, and what sells during supper. Look for seasonalities in your restaurant sales: what sells more during summer or winter and adjust the menu accordingly.

It's time to start assembling a new menu

If you have a restaurant in the middle of nowhere but are still doing well, consider adding items to your menu that people can order for take-out or delivery.

If you are in a place with lots of competition, consider adding healthy options to your menu or items that can be customized. This will give you an edge over the competition and may even allow for more sales during slower periods of time.

Restaurant owners should always be trying to improve their menu. If your restaurant is doing well, but you're struggling during lunch or dinner times it may just mean that the right dishes are not being offered at the time of day they are most popular.

If this sounds like your situation we recommend exploring how other restaurants in your area handle these issues and incorporating some of those concepts into a revised menu for yourself. The goal is always to offer customers what they want when they want it so keep revising menus as needed!

A profitable menu has good images

It's essential to design a menu that is easy for your customer to read and understand. You want them to be able to skim through the page quickly, without the paradox of choice. Essentially, having too many menu options present or having cluttered images on each page promotes more an anxiety than a benefit to customers.

Having just one photo per page can increase sales by up to 30%. Restaurants with casual and affordable menus often experience the most success from using this strategy.

When designing your menu it's also essential that you consider what type of food photography style would be most effective for drawing in customers. In general terms there are two types: "creative" or editorial-style photos, which emphasize ambience and pleasing aesthetics, and "documentary" or straightforward photography that emphasizes the food itself.

Creative photography is perfect for menus that want to evoke a sense of warmth and place, as well as emphasize the quality of food and service. This style also functions well for menus with an eclectic variety of dishes, which might not be captured by straightforward photography.

It's important to use different angles when photographing your dishes so that you have a "full" photo. After all, it's the combination of color, texture, and taste in your dishes that can make them memorable.

To take quality photos creatively you will need to experiment with different macro shots and zoom effects- this is what will truly make your menu come to life! Try photographing at unusual angles and distance so that you can get the most successful shots. Rest assured that the more time you put into refining your skills, the better your photos will be.

Documentary style photos emphasize the quality of food and service. If you are looking for straightforward shots that will show off the ingredients, this is the style to go with. These types of photos capture dishes that have a lot of contrasting textures or colors - and they can be easier to edit in post-processing! However, it might not do as well when trying to highlight ambience.

The main thing you will need to do when photographing your dishes is make sure that the lighting matches from one photo to another. This will ensure continuity and order in your photos, no matter what style of photography you prefer!

The best way to take quality pictures with a restaurant setting is by using natural light as much as possible- this will minimize shadows and show off the most appealing features of your dishes.

Creating a menu that encourages people to spend more money is tricky, but it's possible with the right amount of consideration and planning! The best way to do so is by making sure you are catering to your customers- not trying too hard to please them. If they want something and can't find it, add it to your menu!

The goal is always to offer customers what they want when they want it so keep revising menus as needed. The more attentive you are towards the needs of your customer, the better off your restaurant will be in the end.

Manipulate prices to ensure food costs are respected

Restaurants may also manipulate their menu by having items that are "specials" meaning they're only available periodically, such as weekly or monthly specials. This encourages people into buying those special items, which are often the restaurant's most expensive and profitable items.

It is important to understand that customers may be hesitant about paying more for a meal or dish if they don't know what it will taste like beforehand. This is why restaurants manipulate their menus by adding dishes with testimonials from "people just like you" so people feel less wary about spending more money.

This is also why many restaurants have a higher price for lunch and lower prices at dinner to capture more customers during less busy hours.

Restaurants use decoys for their most profitable items on their menu

In the restaurant world, decoy items are the bait. They're used on menus to draw customers into spending more on an item without knowing that they're actually paying more for it.

Decoy items can be any food or dish that is specially marked with a "specials" tag, which is typically printed in a different font color, size, or style than another menu item. These specials are usually the most expensive and profitable dishes on the menu so restaurants will manipulate their menus by highlighting these dishes to lure people in to order them.

The goal of using decoys on your menu is to make your diners feel like they've chosen a special dish from a larger selection but what you're really doing by adding this sneaky psychological trick is manipulating the price of the item.

Restaurateurs do this because they know that the most profitable items are typically associated with the most expensive item provided to their customers.

By highlighting these dishes, it lures people in to order them without realizing that these specials may not be as good of a value as some of the other less expensive dishes.

For example, if you're serving filet mignon with mixed vegetables and sauce on a bed of rice and naan bread for $38, then marking another dish as "special" for $42 might seem like a bargain if people don't think about how much they're really spending.

The menu design is what will determine whether or not your restaurant succeeds in the long run so it's important to take a good look at these designs now and see where you can make improvements because, after all, this determines which items are reaching their most profitable potential.

Influence how clients feel about your menu using color

Just like any other marketing tactic in business, colors can play an important role in how your restaurant's menu is laid out and what items are highlighted. If you want to get more people spending money on certain dishes, then highlighting these with different colors might be the solution.

If you're trying to impress your diners, then you should consider using a dark color for the main body text on your menu so that it stands out against white backgrounds and other lighter items in the restaurant like walls or plates.

The color black is also used often with restaurant menus because it makes whatever item you want to highlight stand out against other items on the menu. Yet, while dark colors are useful in bringing contrast to your menu, white fonts are easier to see from across a crowded room.

Reds are typically seen as being exciting, so diners may be more inclined to order something spicy and/or outside their comfort zone. If you want a particular dish to be ordered more often when people are eating dinner, you can use a red font color because these can grab attention from across a crowded restaurant so you're increasing your chances of selling out during dinner service as well.

On the other hand, shades of blue can look more subdued and calm. Therefore, if your restaurant wants customers to feel relaxed while they're eating their meal, then blue shades could work well with other colors on your menu design. To emphasize a dish that has sold well during lunch hours for example, you can use blue font color which will stand out against the other text and make it easier for customers to see that dish with ease.

Another way you can manipulate your customers is by using certain colors in conjunction with one another, like red and yellow for instance. Typically, these are seen as being eye-catching colors and can encourage customers to order more food because they're drawn in by the bright color combination. Essentially, you're increasing your chances of selling out during dinner service as well.

For example, if you have a dish that's on sale for $42, then using red text could be your best bet since it will stand out against other items on the menu. If you want to highlight a dish that's on sale for $38, then using yellow text might be the best option.

Some restaurants avoid using green fonts and colors because they're not as eye-catching as reds, oranges or blues, however green can be calming and help diners feel like they're ordering a dish that's healthier because it is associated with healthy eating.

If you're highlighting specials on your menu or want to emphasize certain dishes that have sold out during lunch hours for instance, then using an eye-catching font might be the way to go.

Using colors in your restaurant's menu design can be an easy way to influence how people feel about the dishes you're offering. A lot of restaurants use colors in their menus to get customers spending more money and ordering the most profitable dishes. There are several different ways you could use color, but it all depends on what kind of feel you want to evoke with your design.

Use of different tones and fancier language

Different tones and fancier language can help each menu item seem more appealing. There are a few different ways that could be done.

One way would be to use different fonts in your menu design to make your items stand out. For example, you could use a serif font for the main body text to emphasize high quality dining. However, serif fonts should be used with caution in conjunction with small text sizes, as they are more difficult to read.

Yet, sans-serif fonts are more readable. However, they don't always offer the same sense of sophistication as serif fonts do. Typically, high-end restaurants opt for serif fonts with more negative space to leave breathing room on the menu and to increase legibility. If you want to combine both serif and non serif fonts, sans serif can help with other headings like entrees and desserts.

You also want to think about what kind of language you're using in general when talking about these dishes because some words evoke an emotional response. For example, words like "pouring" and "drizzling" can give the impression that you're serving a dish with high quality ingredients or something luxurious.

Another way to make food seem more appealing is by using certain adjectives in your descriptions of dishes in order to evoke an emotional response. If you want people to feel hungry, then you might want to say "juicy." If you want them to feel indulgent, then the words like "rich" and "luscious" work well.

A lot of restaurants use different tones in their menus to make dishes seem more appealing because it can increase sales. When people read a restaurant's menu for instance they're usually looking for variety. If you want to stand out, then using different tones and fancier language can be a good way to do so. like they're ordering a dish that's indulgent, then you could use appetizing descriptions like "rich" or "decadent."

Finally, you can also manipulate your customers by using different phrases to describe food. If you want to emphasize that a dish is more filling, then "luscious and filling" could be the way to go. This can help make people feel like they're getting something substantial for their money because it tastes great and will fill them up as well.

Nevertheless, if you wanted to highlight how light a dish is, then using words like "airy" or "light as air" are effective. The word "airy" is also used for dishes that are light because it has a positive tone and makes people think of happy memories, leading to people wanting to order the dish.

Restaurant menu items often have enticing descriptions in order to increase sales. The type of descriptions matter because some evoke an emotional response from the customer whereas others are just a list of ingredients on a plate. With effective decorations and eye-catching colors, restaurants will gain more customers looking for variety. As research shows, descriptive labels can increase sales by 27 percent, which is worth the effort in writing for the long run.

Make your clients feel nostalgic

One way that restaurants can make their clients feel nostalgic is by using the same type of style in both the interior and exterior decorations.

For example, if you want to create a rustic feeling in your establishment then you might want to use wooden tables, unfinished wood floors, and have darker colored walls. You could also add some decorative antiques to the room such as old pictures and trinkets.

Another way that restaurants can evoke nostalgia is by incorporating cultural elements into their menu. For example, if you're going for more of a traditional diner vibe you could serve dishes like hot dogs with chili or chicken and waffles. These are two examples of food which have become cultural staples over time. They evoke memories of history and how some people have eaten food for generations.

The nostalgia also comes from the dishes themselves and how they're presented on a plate, which is why restaurants can use words like "home-style" or "homestyle" or "traditional" or "handpicked selection." When used in conjunction with descriptive menu labels or even a brief selection of stories, meal description no longer seems like a list of ingredients, yet ingredients with intention. These terms make customers feel nostalgic because it reminds them of their childhood and simpler times when food recipes were passed down, prepared, and cooked at home instead of in a restaurant.

A lot of people are nostalgic for times in their lives where food was simpler and not as complicated to make, which is why restaurants can incorporate these elements into the menu they serve. This could be done by using dishes that have been established cultural staples or just traditional cuisine.

Traditional cuisine of any country has a unique feel to it and changes the atmosphere of any restaurant. Stepping into a restaurant where workers are using fresh produce, spices, and maybe even run by a family, makes customers feel nostalgic and comfortable.

Research has shown that people like to enjoy scents before they eat, which is why restaurants should consider using scented candles or incense in their establishment.

This isn't just about candles or incense though- there are many ways to seduce a customer's senses through scents alone. One way is to give off more masculine scents as opposed to floral ones which would appeal more towards women.

The aromas from cooking are another factor that changes the mood of a restaurant because it makes people hungry before they even taste their meal! These scents can also make customers feel more relaxed and comfortable with an added bonus for those who have allergies because there are no direct artificial fragrances in use.

Foods can also have different aromas depending on the type of cuisine, which can evoke memories or appreciation for the culture in which the restaurant embodies. It makes the restaurant experience more enjoyable and encourages customers to revisit the restaurant not only for the food, but for the experience of it. Getting diners to return is the ultimate goal since the restaurant industry relies on repeat customers as they account for about 70 percent of sales!

Use the golden triangle principle in your restaurant

When we look at a menu, our eyes typically move to the middle first before traveling to the upper right-hand corner and then, finally, to the upper left corner. This has been dubbed the "Golden Triangle" by menu engineers, and these three areas are where you'll find the dishes with the highest profit margin.

Menu engineers have researched the way people read menus and found that we're drawn to ordering higher cost items in three distinct areas: the middle, right-hand side, and top left.

This isn't just about using the three points on the menu as a way to increase profits. There are many other ways that restaurants can use the "Golden Triangle" principle in their restaurant. One common design is for restaurants to have darker colored walls, cushioned benches, and an open kitchen with plenty of light. This would be a more exclusive experience and draw in customers looking for a fine dining experience.

They could also provide transportation such as bicycle delivery or delivery by car which would make the customer feel like they're paying for more than just food.

Another idea is to offer coupons and loyalty cards which will result in increased revenue because it gives customers added incentive to come back! These card programs can also be used as marketing tools because they allow restaurants to collect customer data and learn more about their demographics.

When you want to sell more food and help restaurants increase revenue, we can work together to complete a customized menu that encourages customers to purchase from your establishments.

With WISK you can access your sales data directly from your POS and see what recipes are actually profitable. It will help you know how to plan out a menu that entices people to buy more.

To get started with WISK today, contact us for a free demo or sign up for a free 14-day trial right now!


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