Tricks Restaurants Use to Get You to Spend More

Guest Check on Black Tray
Many of us may not realize this, but there are sneaky little things restaurants do to get us to order certain foods and pay bigger bucks.

Claire Robinson, host of Food Network's "5 Ingredient Fix" and author of a book by the same name, served the trade secrets up on an "Early Show on Saturday Morning" platter to help you make less costly menu choices.

Menu Placement

Nothing on a menu happens by accident. Bold and colorful fonts or borders around certain options result in an increase in sales of the item. Photographs can also increase sales, but they must reflect what the actual menu item will look like.

"Gaze pattern" is the inside term for how customers eyeball a menu. That also plays a role in the menu madness. Customers tend to focus in the middle of a one-page menu. On a two-page menu, eyes move quickly from top to bottom on the left page and usually linger around two-thirds of the way down on the second page. Profitable menu items appear in those "hot spots."

Ingredient Costs

When looking over a menu, have you been torn between two items and then selected based on the price? Although that pasta dish may be more affordable than the chicken dish, you have to consider what you're getting with your money. Pasta is one of the cheapest items to prepare, and therefore one of the most profitable items for the restaurant. The pasta loaded with vegetables might be cheaper by a few dollars, but in reality, the ingredients cost a fraction of those in chicken dishes.

Something's Fishy

Seafood dishes can be some of the most expensive items on the menu, so how can you be sure you're really paying for the good stuff? For example, according to the Department of Environmental and Natural Resource Economics at the University of Rhode Island, about 70 percent of the "Maryland crab cakes" on menus, aren't actually made of crab from Maryland. Crabs are often from other areas of the East Coast, or imported from other countries. Many restaurants also substitute an inexpensive fish, such as Pollack, for a pricier fish, such as cod. Another example is using tilapia instead of the much pricier snapper. It's often difficult to identify which fish is which.


Items on the specials menu are often much more popular and yield BIG profits for restaurants, but a lot of times, these "specials" are anything but. Restaurants tend to create dishes for their "specials menu" that use up ingredients in their kitchen that are closing in on their expiration date. Surplus ingredients at the end of the day can often become tomorrow's "special." Be on the lookout for expensive items such as lamb or fish playing a supporting role in a dish, such as a in a pasta sauce or a stew.

Alcoholic Beverages

These can really up your bill. Consider having a drink and appetizer at home and then heading to the eatery!


Unfortunately, a reservation isn't a guarantee you'll be seated right away. Most restaurants overbook to compensate the no-shows. Also, we all know it's often very difficult to get a reservation, but be wary of taking a late seating. Besides being an inconvenience for the restaurant staff, it's doubtful your food will be as good as those eating at an earlier time. By the end of the night, the kitchen staff is in clean-up mode, and the food that was prepped much earlier in the night will end up being haphazardly thrown together.

For some great recipes from Robinson's "5 Ingredient Fix," go to Page 2.