Tricks of the Trade: Restaurants

Going out to eat is fun and relaxing, but when it comes to cost, many of us bite off more than we can chew. The average household spends about $2,500 at restaurants annually, according to the National Restaurant Association. While we like to think we’re in control of what we spend, it’s easy to give in to the tricks restaurants use to make us pay more.

Have you ever wondered why you’re given salty snacks at the bar, or why each menu item is so decadently described? And what’s with the classical music? Find out what Money Talks News founder Stacy Johnson has to say about tricks of the restaurant trade. Then read on for more.

Below, you’ll find more money traps that restaurants use. Knowing what they are is the first step to avoiding them.

1. Salty snacks at the bar

Those complimentary pretzels and peanuts weren’t set in front of you as a kind gesture – they’re there so you’ll order more drinks. Salty snacks make you thirsty. End of story.

2. Menu design

Our eyes have a natural tendency to look at the right side of the menu first, so restaurants usually list their most expensive dishes in that area. Some restaurants put their most expensive items at the top of the menu, so other items look more reasonably priced. Shaded boxes and borders around menu items also attract hungry patrons and can increase sales.

3. Lack of dollar signs

Have you noticed more restaurants listing prices without dollar signs? That’s no coincidence. In a Cornell study, guests given a menu with only numbers and no dollar signs spent significantly more than those who received a menu with either prices showing a dollar sign or prices written out in words.

4. Flowery descriptions

Which sounds better: Classic Burger or Tavern-Style Burger with Frizzled Onions and Smoky Barbecue Sauce? According to a six-week field experiment by Cornell, menus that had descriptive or creative food descriptions, rather than items with simple names, increased sales by 27 percent. To add insult to injury, scrumptiously described dishes often cost more.

5. Extremely friendly servers

I’ve personally fallen victim to this, and you probably have too. While dining at a restaurant in Chicago, I met the world’s friendliest server and gave him an exceptionally generous tip (he made it a point to thank me for my kindness). According to a study by Cornell, my behavior was common – customers leave higher tips when their servers personally introduce themselves, crouch beside the table, or ask about your day.

6. The upsell

The servers who grip your wallet with their charisma also pull you in with the classic upsell, and they’re very good at it. That same Chicago server also convinced me that his restaurant had some of the best burgers in the city and persuaded me to buy a premium beer that would pair well with the burger.

7. Music

Classical music makes you spend. Mentioned in a Daily Mail article, University of Leicester researchers found that classical music, associated with affluence, encouraged spending at restaurants, while a lack of music caused diners to spend drastically less.

8. Package deals

All-you-can-eat specials and buffets appeal to diners looking for a good value. While there may be a discount, restaurants pull out the tricks to get you to eat less. You’ve probably noticed that buffet lines often start with an assortment of low-cost breads and salads to fill you up before you even get to the meat. Sugary beverages can also fill you up. You might also find shallower plates (that hold less food) and uncomfortable chairs that discourage sitting for an extended period of time.

9. Questionable specials

Specials aren’t always so “special.” In fact, they often include leftover ingredients or food that is set to expire soon. And while there are deals to be had, sometimes specials can cost just as much as a regular priced meal.

10. Forced waiting

Restaurant staff members make you wait so they can divert your attention to the lounge, which is ironically never crowded. Some restaurants bill you for your lounge items separately from your meal, forcing you to tip twice.

11. Soups and salads trick

Many people often order a soup and salad under the assumption these items are cheaper (and healthier). But they’re not always a good deal. In 20 Products with Giant Markups, we explained that salad bar items are often marked up more than 350 percent. Restaurants finding a way to serve up little value? It’s just another one of their tricks of the trade.

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  • Vito V

    Some good points. Watch for the word “signature” as well in the descriptions.
    I didn’t realize there was a practice of false waiting. Doesn’t seem like there’s much defense against that, other then forgoing the cocktail.