Consumers tend to take what’s given at face value on restaurant menus. That’s why they often end up spending more than planned. In a restaurant, the menu is the single biggest marketing tool, so knowing how to read it will save you money.
Here are some things to consider:
Perception of wholesomeness sells. We spend more when we feel good, so restaurants use words like pan-seared or oven roasted or braised on their menus, words that conjure up mouth-watering images of tastes and smells. These are healthier ways to cook and we feel good choosing them, so restaurants can get away with charging more. It is possible that the dish is healthier, but not necessarily, so read with a jaundiced eye. Ask the waiter for details. If it comes with a cream or butter sauce, you may not want the fat and calories.
Right hand side rule. In general the top right hand side of the menu is where restaurants place their most profitable dishes, because studies show that’s where the eye is drawn. Even better for the restaurant, is a dish placed in the top right hand corner with a box drawn around it or highlighted. So resist that urge until you’ve looked around the menu. You may end up buying it, but looking around may just save you some money.
Why food is grouped. Restaurants divide their menus into categories because marketing studies show that when people come into a restaurant they “feel” like having a certain dish, say chicken, fish or vegetarian. So restaurants group these items so you can quickly find what you feel like eating. Studies have also found that we tend to pick the first item in a list, so if the restaurant has a money maker of a chicken dish, it will be the first one in the chicken group. Consider the other dishes on the list, you may like them as much and they may cost you less.
Watch the upselling: We all know that upselling by restaurant staff is another way of boosting the bill. Fast food restaurants do it by offering you a combo —and quite often people say yes because they can save a bit of money, even though they did not really want the extra items. Listen for these phrases: “Would you like the …with that” or “Can I also get you…”
Avoid tourist areas. Finally, restaurant bills tend to be higher in tourist areas or popular holiday destinations because higher prices seem to go with the atmosphere and the location. The restaurant famous for its 360 degree view or in a trendy new district will always charge you a few dollars more because they can. That is why I stick with tried and true local restaurants that may not have any special “hook” but offer good food at reasonable prices every time.