A rich vocabulary means a "fillet of grass-fed Scottish Angus and rosemary chips" seems much more appetizing than "steak and chips", as well as descriptive words giving a precise origin to the ingredients, like the name of the farmer or animal breed (which increases sales up to 27%, because it is associated to higher quality).
Captivating descriptions such as "sparkling green beans" and "crunchy scallions", words that imitate mouth movements during the meal, the font in italics that makes you think it is higher quality, and the menu organized like a magazine are just some of the tricks menu psychology, developed by "menu engineering" experts (the science that designs restaurant menus to seduce us, ed.), as "Focus" reports on the most recent studies, to understand what drives us to order one dish rather than another. And, “there are already those who are talking about using algorithms to predict our choices, like certain web pages, where the publicity of what we were searching appears”.
“There are many elements in a menu that can be modified to push the customer towards one choice or another and restaurants use these to push people to order more expensive dishes”, emphasized Charles Spence, professor of Experimental Psychology and Multi-sensory Perception at the University of Oxford, interviewed by BBC on how the restaurant menu affects us when we order and what makes the description of a dish more or less attractive to our eyes and our mind. According to a study by scientists at the University of Stanford, California, vegetables that have appealing descriptions are chosen 23% more often, because words seem to express flavor. Another study at the University of Cologne, Germany, has shown restaurants that name dishes with words that mimic mouth movements, may well increase the appeal of food.
“It can take up to 18 months to create the menus of a large chain that have up to a million customers a day in their restaurants all over the world”, explained Gregg Rapp, American guru of menu engineering, “customers only spend a few minutes looking at the menu, so we want it to do it efficiently. If they can find what they want quickly, they spend more time looking at other dishes they might order”.
There are various tricks, for instance, organizing the menu like a magazine and placing the restaurant’s most profitable dishes at the top right, because that's where we look first, or not filling it with too many choices that create indecision and lead to choose the cheapest or the most familiar dish. Dan Jurafsky, professor of Computational Linguistics at Stanford, analyzed the words and prices of 650.000 dishes on 6.500 menus, and found that if longer words were used to describe a dish, it tended to cost more.
Placing the most expensive dish at the top of the menu, according to Aaron Allen, a catering consultant, is a trick that helps make the dishes that follow appear much cheaper.
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