5 things to know about restaurant menus

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.

Published by maisievanriel

Welcome to my website. My name is Maisie Vanriel and I am a Registered Dietitian. I am a graduate of The University of Toronto with an Honours Bachelor of Science degree in Food and Nutritional Science and a Diploma in Food Safety from the Guelph Food Technology Centre. I realized a few years ago that some of the best times I have had in my career as a Dietitian have been those times when I was writing. For many years I was part of the Editorial Advisory Board of Diabetes Dialogue Magazine (The Canadian Diabetes Association) which afforded me the opportunity to write articles and editorials on diabetes. I contributed to the first Ontario Healthy Eating Manual and recently reviewed the lesson plans in the updated version launched this March 2012. In May of 2011, I won the Toronto Star’s MoneyVille section Next Blogger’s contest beating out 265 other contestants for the chance to write on nutrition and sensible shopping. My winning Blog was entitled: 5 things your grocery store won’t tell you. Writing is one of my favourite ways of communicating and like cooking it relaxes me; so in some ways your allowing me to communicate with you will contribute to my health and I hope in return I can contribute to your health and wellbeing. The inspiration for this website is my grandmother who lived 97 years and enjoyed excellent health for almost all of those 97 years. She believed in healing power of herbs, a plant-based diet and in paying attention to the type of fuel (food) that she put in her body. So my postings will be less about the constant stream of research and studies around what and how to eat and more about reminding us that we have always known how to eat. We just need to get back in tune with our bodies and focus on providing it with the best possible fuel, quality foods.

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