Secret tricks of restaurant menus: Why you may be enticed to spend more

Restaurants use all types of marketing tricks and gimmicks to get customers in the door. Once they get them inside, however, the real trick is to get them to spend more -- and that's when restaurants use their most powerful advertising weapon: the menu.

While it may not seem obvious at first glance,restaurants often incorporate various visual tricks into their menus to get diners to buy more expensive meals or, simply, to buy more food. WalletPop took a look at the menu of California Pizza Kitchen, a national chain based in Los Angeles that has more than 250 restaurants in 33 states and 9 other countries. With the help of some menu design experts, we examined the restaurant chain's extensive menu of pizza, salads and other items, like fish tacos, to see if we could find some often-employed upselling tactics. Here is what we found on just one page of the restaurant chain's six-page menu.

1.Typically, the diner's eye is first drawn to the upper right hand corner of a menu. But since CPK's menu is so long, the eye is naturally drawn to the middle, making it a prime spot for the restaurant to feature its most expensive or highest-margin items, says Erin Martin, an online editor at, which sells professionally-designed menus to independent restaurants. Here, CPK's signature item, outlined in red as the "BBQ Chicken Pizza," will likely catch your eye first. Note that these are some of the most expensive items on the page.

2.CPK puts its simple pizzas, like the White Pizza, right next to its more complex pizzas, like the heavily-loaded Greek Pizza. By doing so, the restaurant is hoping that the more complex (and more expensive) pizza will look more enticing than the simple pizza, says Martin.

3. The thin crust pizzas are put at the bottom of the page, yet another spot where high-profit items go because a reader's eyes will naturally travel down after going to the upper right corner. These tend to be highly profitable items for the restaurant. The thin crust pizzas here, for example, cost $1.50 more, making you think you're getting something special but in reality you're paying $1.50 extra for less crust.

4. People tend to spend more if the price on a menu is portrayed without a dollar sign or the word "dollars," according to a study by a researcher at Cornell University and the Culinary Institute of America that WalletPop wrote about in May.

CPK must have read the same study because it doesn't include dollar signs on its menu, either.However, the chain violates one common rule of menu design by putting most of the prices in a straight vertical line so customers can easily scan by price and pick the cheapest item instead of looking at the food, says Bruce Sharkey of JMS Menu Marketing. And if the goal is to sell food and not the prices, then the font size of the prices should be two points smaller, he says. CPK also uses decimal points and cents, something many experts advise against.

5. Boxes or sections are often used on menus to highlight upscale items that are likely to catch a diner's eye. Every menu should have at least two high-profit items in a section that stands out and are the first thing you see, Sharkey says.

6. Watch out for the trendy buzzwords.Throughout CPK's menu, colorful descriptions are employed that make the items sound more appetizing. Take the "Applewood smoked bacon" on its California Club pizza, for example, or the "fresh Roma tomatoes." Both of these descriptions are a heck of a lot more appetizing sounding than plain old "bacon" or "tomatoes."

7. Red diamonds with "new" written on them are scattered throughout the menu to alert diners to new dishes that may also be higher-profit items. If CPK wants to sell more of these items, it should box them and put more than a "new" sign next to them, said Sharkey of JMS Menu Marketing.
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