GOING out for a meal is a fun activity to do, but you may end up subtly spending more money than you had anticipated.
A behaviour expert has revealed the nine tricks restaurants do to influence you to part with your cash from the moment you step inside.
Behavioural science expert James Picken, from Startle, who curates music for likes of ASK and Pizza Pilgrims, shares the mind tricks restaurants commonly use.
These include ways they make you spend more, choose the most profitable menu items and leave feeling satisfied…
1. Inviting you to the bar to wait
As soon as you walk through the door your decisions may be being influenced.
Whether your table is ready or not, it’s common to be invited to grab a drink at the bar while you wait instead of loitering around.
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This tactic allows restaurants to give you something you’ll enjoy within minutes, lifting your mood and distracting you from the wait.
It also adds high-profit margin items to your bill before you’ve even sat down to order.
2. Giving you a heavy menu
It’s true. How heavy a menu is to hold in your hands can affect your dining experience.
Restaurants that give out heavy menus are associated with better service and therefore you’re more likely to enjoy your dining experience, tip more and recommend the place to others.
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The same is true for heavy cutlery, glasses and plates, too.
One study found we associate heavier tableware with greater expense, meaning we also view the meals eaten off them as more luxurious and enjoyable.
3. Carefully curating their background playlist
Music is often used as a contextual cue to influence the speed at which you eat your meal – and hence, how long you stay and how much you spend.
Depending on the time of day, a restaurant may play up-beat, fast-paced tunes to encourage you to eat quicker – often at lunch when spend per table is lower – or slower-paced tunes during the evening service to encourage you to settle in for the night and spend more.
4. Offering you a booth
Restaurants are masters at duration control and making sure diners spend the perfect amount of time there to generate the most money possible.
And booth seating is becoming increasingly popular as they give you privacy on three sides, promoting relaxation and higher bills according to a study on spend per minute among diners sat at different types of tables.
5. Using decoy pricing
Just because something on the menu is the most expensive, doesn’t mean it has the biggest profit margin.
These dishes are what are known as “anchors” which make the rest of the choices look better value by comparison.
Restaurants will place these pricey items next to slightly less pricey dishes, but with more room for profit.
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The former looks like a good deal and a responsible choice for diners.
Similarly, items which aren’t as profitable may be placed toward the bottom of a page, where they’re less likely to be noticed and ordered.
6. Giving you an uncomfortable seat
In high-turnover restaurants like cafés and fast-food outlets, don’t expect to be sat on a comfy chair.
That’s because they want you to order, eat and leave as quickly as possible to maximise the number of customers they can serve in a day.
7. Playing loud music
Ever been to a restaurant where you struggle to hear your date or find your group is getting louder and louder?
They’re probably trying to increase the size of your wet bill by turning up the music, according to one study that found up-tempo music can boost alcohol consumption.
Interestingly, louder music also encourages people to drink quicker as you’re less likely to be engrossed in conversation.
8. Removing £ from the menu
You might have seen this on menus and not given it a second thought, but by removing the pound sign on menus, some restaurants can trick you into spending more.
One study found guests given the numeral-only menu spent significantly more than those who received a menu with prices showing a dollar sign or those whose menus had prices written out in words.
That’s because monetary symbols are powerful visual triggers that remind us we're about to lose something we value, prompting our instinct to spend less.
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9. Dimming the lights
Most restaurants manipulate lighting at different times of day to create different vibes, and this can make you order more or less.
According to a study, diners are 16 – 24 per cent more likely to order healthy food (and less of it) in well-lit restaurants as bright light heightens the senses and emotions.
But once the lights go down, usually early evening, the ambience becomes more relaxed – and so do our food and drink choices.
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