Ask Andy: The secrets of restaurant menus - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Reported by Andy Wise

Ask Andy: The secrets of restaurant menus

I'll never read a restaurant menu the same way again after what Consumer Reports and the Culinary Institute of America taught me.

Think of a menu as the restaurant's storefront.  It's the chain's first chance to really sell its signature dishes and the plates that pile on the profit margins, so a restaurant owner will slick it up and design it like any good marketer would. 

Every color, every font, every design ARE designed to increase the chance that you will pick the dish that pays!

CR and the culinary institute say professional menu-designers will first focus on customers' GAZE PATTERNS.  They say most customers read menus left to right, up and down, and they skim FAST.  So designers will come up with ways to box big-ticket items in borders with shaded colors and special fonts that direct customers' eyes to those items.  Some may even use raised lettering or special paper, so let your fingers do the walking.

Also, all menus have HOT SPOTS.  On a single-page menu, it's just below the mid-point.  On a double-page menu, it's two-thirds of the way down the right-hand side.  CR says that's where you will find either the restaurant's signature dishes or entrees like pasta with marinara sauce.  That's a dish that's cheap to make and customers gorge on it, so restaurants sell a lot of it.

CR has put together these tips on how to trim the check at your favorite restaurants:

  • Eat at off hours.  Some places may offer discounts based on the time of day you dine.  Those discounts are designed to get folks in the door.
  • Eat at the bar.  Some places offer half-price appetizers if you eat at the bar at certain times.         
  • Order family-style and share or order off the lunch menu at dinner -- if the restaurant will allow you.  
  • Visit your favorite chains' Web sites. By signing up for e-mail alerts, you can learn about discounts, be entered in a drawing for a free dinner or trip, or earn a free appetizer.
  • Don't rely on online COUPONS for restaurants, though.  CR reports some chains are shying away from distributing online coupons because of phishing scams and spam. 
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