Can your restaurant menu design influence sales? You better believe it. Customers don’t choose menu items at random; the likelihood that they’ll select one dish over another is shaped by the design of your menu. Item placement, descriptions, and prices can all drive sales, encouraging customers to linger over high-profit entrees and de-emphasizing the cost of their meal. Ultimately, that means higher profits and bigger checks overall. Here are a few tips you can use in your restaurant to take advantage of menu psychology.


Focus on Your Descriptions

Sumptuous descriptions do a lot more than add polish to your restaurant menu. They can actually function as a selling tool: Wouldn’t you rather eat “Rotisserie roasted chicken salad on oven-fresh sourdough bread” than a plain old chicken salad sandwich?

Scientists studied this effect and menu descriptions do influence customer choices. A menu item with a more complex description is more likely to win customers over. It’s also tied to perceptions of quality — and how much restaurant-goers are willing to spend on an entree. So if you want to get people to pay more per plate, go more in-depth with your item descriptions.


Remove Dollar Signs on Prices

Taking the currency symbols off your restaurant menu can yield higher profits, presumably because diners aren’t reminded that they’ll have to pull out their wallets at the end of their meal. A study from Cornell University found that this approach raised average checks by eight percent — not bad for a simple menu edit!


Pay Attention to Price Placement

The placement of your prices can also drive sales. Instead of listing prices next to the item name, use nested pricing, in which the cost of each item sits under the item description. This works a lot like the dollar sign trick: it puts the focus on the food rather than the cost. And when people are considering your well-crafted descriptions instead of thinking about their bank accounts, they’re more likely to spring for those high-dollar items.


Organize Items Strategically

A $30 plate of pasta primavera might seem a tad pricey, but not compared to the $50 lobster ravioli. Placing popular, moderately priced items next to high-dollar dishes drives customers toward the first entree, only because it seems like a steal. Use this technique to subtly promote high-profit items like pasta dishes, pizzas, and stir-fries. A strategic menu approach never hurt anyone.


Don’t Forget About Negative Space

Another aspect that influences diners’ decisions is the amount of white space on the menu. When scanning a page with a lot of text, the eye is naturally drawn to areas with more negative space surrounding them. Restaurateurs use this tendency to their advantage, strategically placing high-markup items in separate sections, surrounded by lots of blank space.


Conjure Up Some Warm Fuzzies

There are many ways of making a decision, but one method we often employ is the use of mental shortcuts — known in the psychological community as heuristics. A common shortcut involves emotions: we use our feelings about something to make a choice, rather than relying on logic. Many restaurant owners play to this psychological process through nostalgic, homey language: ”Grandma’s apple pie” or “Uncle Dave’s special pot pie.” Follow their lead by adding a few nostalgic modifiers here and there to trigger diner purchases.


Create Item Add-ons for Popular Meals

Customers are constantly asking to add bacon to their burger or avocado on their taco, so why not present the option right there on your menu? List several item upgrades for various menu items and allow customers to customize away. Charge a small fee for extras like double cheese or grilled shrimp. A strong POS system makes it easy enough to add or subtract items, and meanwhile, you’ll reap the benefits on those checks.

Employing these tips should give your sales a boost, but they’ll do little to drive profits if your service isn’t on point. Our CAKE POS system and Guest Management software will help your kitchen and waitstaff deliver great service so you can truly take advantage of restaurant menu upsells.