How menu design influences purchasing decisions

Mobas’ Account Executive, psychology graduate Sophie Rudkin, explores how menus are cleverly designed to nudge us towards certain choices.

Menu psychology is the idea that, with careful and strategic menu construction, diners can sometimes be encouraged to order certain dishes – and what restaurant wouldn’t want to influence customer behaviour just through the way the menu is designed?

The next time you find yourself about to order something from a restaurant menu, take a second to consider what exactly influenced you to make that decision. Was it the description of the food, or was your eye drawn to it on the page? If the answer is yes to either of those, it would appear that some of the subtle techniques used by menu engineers are a success.

One factor that can affect our food selection is the order in which dishes are listed on a menu. It’s a well-established psychological finding that the first and last few items in a list are remembered better than the items in the middle – this is known as the ‘primacy and recency effect’. There is similar evidence that the first two and last items on a menu are ordered more frequently than those in the middle, perhaps due to this effect. As a result, menu engineers are likely to place a restaurant’s more profitable dishes in these spots.

Designers are also able to showcase certain dishes by placing them in open space. When positioned away from the busyness of the rest of the menu, they stand out and we pay more attention to them, ultimately making us want to order them for dinner. Boxes can be used as another way to single out dishes with high profit margins or those that the chef would like to promote.

The language used within a menu can also make a huge difference to the orders that are made. Using appealing adjectives, such as ‘sizzling’ and ‘tangy’, is crucial when describing dishes. Writing slightly longer descriptions for items that you’d like to sell will make them more prominent and memorable.

It has also been discovered that we spend more when currency signs are removed from a menu, because the emphasis is taken away from the price of the dish and instead placed on the dish itself.

Who knew that menus could be working so hard to influence hungry diners? Our Creative team is well-versed in designs that resonate with the audience and help you to achieve your business/sales goals – and you, too, will never look at a menu quite the same way again.

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