(CBS News) A restaurant menu is not just a list - it's a science.
From the language to the prices, restaurants have lots of ways to get you to order certain items. Thursday on "CBS This Morning," CBS News travel editor Peter Greenberg revealed some of those methods with a list of the five things your restaurant won't tell you about the menu.
1. It's all about the right side and center of the menu
Increasingly, restaurants engineer their menus as researchers have discovered predictable "gazing" patterns - what we look for and where we look for it - as well as what we try to avoid. Even the typeface used on menus has been fine-tuned. What does this mean? Often, the restaurant will put their most expensive item in that center right side of the menu. Restaurants call these items "decoys" because they're not expecting you to buy that one. It's what they're expecting you to see first. What they want you to buy and what you have a high likelihood of buying is the item they place directly underneath it. You shy away from the most expensive item and then order the item with the restaurant's highest profit margin.
2. The back side of the menu is for losers
That's where the restaurant puts its losers. Chances are you've already made up your mind before you flip the menu over. The same applies on a two-page menu that opens up to the lower left corner of the left side. That's where the restaurants bury the grilled cheese sandwiches and the chicken fingers.
3. It's all in the description
Identifying an item as creamy or succulent can increase the likelihood of an order significantly. Also, words that are related to geography, such as "Iowa" pork chops or "Kansas City" barbecue, can help in a description. Other factors may be nostalgic words like "legendary" or "grandma's," as well as brand-related names like "Jack Daniels glazed ribs" or "Niman Ranch pork loin." Descriptor words can do more than affect whether the item is ordered. Add just two descriptors to an item such as "seafood pasta," and rename "succulent Italian seafood pasta," and people will rate their dining experience differently. They will say food was much more tasty, the restaurant more trendy, and that the chef had more cutting-edge training.
4. Labeling makes a difference in what you pay
How a menu item is labeled can affect its price as well. People may be willing to pay more - in some cases up to 15 percent more - depending on the item's label. For instance, a customer may be willing to pay $12 for "roasted chicken" but for $14 for "tender glazed roasted chicken." In the world of menu engineering, our imagination and anticipation of taste lead us to overpay based on simple descriptive language.
5. How an item is priced - not the price - is important
Besides location and descriptors, restaurants also experiment with prices to get you to buy the things that most help their bottom line. For instance, recent studies show that, at least in high-end markets, menus should avoid odd price endings. That means pricing an item at $17 rather than $16.99 is actually more profitable, contrary to decades of practice and experience. At many high-end restaurants, in fact, a dollar sign is never used. And in many cases, neither are numbers. The price will be spelled out as "twenty." In the world of menu psychology, it projects the notion that the quality of the food is better. It's subtle, but it works. In fact, you'll notice that expensive restaurants also avoid listing prices in columns along the right side of the page. Why? When straight columns are used, diners will almost always just go down and choose from among the least expensive items.
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