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There’s a psychology behind literally everything that engages people in the intersection of choice and decision. This month, we’re focusing on the psychology of menu design. Placement, formatting and ease of use count for major points – as does color and imagery – in creating a menu that generates maximum profits. A menu done well is a restaurant’s silent salesperson for hungry buyers.

Here’s how it works. Any time you open up something to read, your eyes will naturally move in a structured pattern – from the middle of a page, to the top right corner, then to the left. Restaurant menu engineers (pretty much the coolest title ever!) understand these patterns and will create a mouth-watering design for your eyes and brain to feast upon. A diner with a growling tummy will scan their options quickly, moving through the beginning and last parts of the menu first. These areas are intentionally created to be “prime real estate” regions, where the most expensive meal options are placed. Putting the spendiest meals up front will make every other meal choice seem like a bargain. But, spendy or not, you’re not likely to see many currency signs on a well-crafted menu. Once the dollar sign ($) is removed, the perception of cost is removed too… which helps people buy more and fret less about the value of the meal they’re selecting.

It goes without saying that meal descriptions are an important piece to focus on too. They create verbal imagery to entice the mind, and then the stomach to engage. But be careful of saying things like “world’s best” anything, because our built-in BS-o’meter will ignore such statements and create a subconscious “yeah, right,” which could destroy the restaurant’s credibility before the customer even has a chance to try them out.

Also, successful restaurants know that unlimited choices can be paralyzing. Limiting options to about seven per category is an industry best practice. And, with the topic of whether or not to include pictures on a menu, less is always more. Choose photos that highlight your best dish in all its delectable glory, focusing on texture, colors, and visual appeal. Putting pictures of every dish can be a turn off, because some dishes may taste amazing but simply aren’t photogenic (you know what I’m talking about). Illustration is an alternative to photos and is becoming quite popular in high-end and trendy eateries.

Now that you have the inside track of restaurant menu psychology, pay attention to which of your favorite establishments are doing it well. You may be surprised at how you came to love your ideal meal.