Creating a successful menu is the one of the most important tasks a restaurant can undertake. It needs to tread a fine line between attracting and pleasing customers whilst also taking into account the need to generate a profit. Restaurants spend huge amounts of time and money optimising and perfecting their menus.

According to a Gallop poll, people spend an average of 109 seconds looking at a menu. Restaurants should know this and organise their menu in a way to make every second count. Menus need to be easily digestible (excuse the pun) but still convey the appearance of choice.

Six ways for a restaurant to influence customers

1. Menu order

Studies have shown that people are more likely to order items at the beginning of a list (one study found that 35% of diners will order the very first item!). Therefore, restaurants often put their highest margin dishes at the top of the menu. Conversely, they will reduce visibility of lower margin items by putting them lower down or on the back of the menu. This is known as the “Serial Position Effect”.

2. Paradox of choice

This is a cognitive bias in which having too much choice can in fact lead individuals to reach less satisfactory decisions than they would have if presented with less choice. A smaller, targeted menu means you have more chance of persuading them to opt for higher margin dishes.

3. Adding decoy items

Adding a similarly priced but inferior dish, or a more expensive dish, to the menu makes the other dishes seem more attractive in comparison.

4. Removing the currency signs

You may have noticed the recent trend for menu prices without the currency symbol and in round amounts. This is no accident: pricing your steak at 22 rather than £21.75 or $21.99 minimizes the association with money and reduces the “pain of paying”, another known cognitive bias.

5. Layout

Restaurants take advantage of the so-called “Golden Triangle” – readers eyes’ are first drawn to the middle of the menu, then the top right and then the top left. Restaurants take this into account when laying out the menu and will often supplement it with visual aides like borders and shading to draw readers’ attention in a particular direction.

6. Creative descriptions

Research has shown that adding the names of mothers, grandmothers and other relatives to the names of dishes makes them more appealing. This is related to the Metaphor Effect in which we understand and more easily remember language that activates our imagination. You’ll therefore see plenty of restaurants calling dishes things like “Grandma’s homemade Apple Pie”. You’ll also find liberal use of meaningless but appealing adjectives like “country ham” and “farm fresh eggs” (aren’t all eggs farm fresh?).