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Tricks Restaurants Use to Get You to Spend More

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.

Ginger Mojitos

15 to 20 mint leaves, plus 2 springs for garnish
2 tablespoons raw sugar, plus more for rimming the glasses
Juice of 1 lime, plus 1 lime wedge
1/2 cup light rum
1 12 -ounce bottle ginger beer
yield: 2 cocktails

What makes this recipe really sing:

Ginger beer is strong in fresh ginger flavor with a slightly spicy kick
and one of my favorite ingredients to have on hand; it gives the drink
a little heat! If you cannot find ginger beer, then use a natural ginger ale.
The refreshing flavor of the mint and fresh lime juice with the hint
of ginger spice makes this the perfect sipper!

What to toss in if you have it:

Place a large piece of candied ginger directly in the drink before serving or skewer a candied ginger piece on toothpick and lay it across the top of the glass's rim. If you are a vodka over, try substituting the rum with a ginger-or lime-flavored vodka.

Muddle the mint with 2 tablespoons raw sugar in a cocktail shaker. Once the mint is broken down, add the lime juice and rum and fill the shaker with ice. Run the lime wedge around the rims of two collins or highball glasses and dip the rims into the raw sugar spread on a plate.

Shake the cocktail until ice cold and then carefully divide it between the glasses, minding the sugared rims. Add more ice if necessary, then top each glass off with ginger beer. Garnish each with a mint sprig and enjoy!

A Moscow Mule In Miami

1/4 cup fresh mint leaves, plus a small bunch for garnish
2 teaspoons raw sugar
3 ounces vodka
Juice of 1 lime
3 ounces ginger beer

Yield: 1 cocktail

What makes this recipe really sing:

A variation on a mojito, this refreshing cocktail replaces the rum with
vodka and the soda with spicy ginger beer. Super refreshing on a warm summer day!

What to toss in if you have it:

Toss a thin slice of peeled ginger in the cocktail shaker and muddle
it with the mint and sugar for an extra-gingery kick.

In the bottom of a glass of a cocktail shaker, place ¼ cup mint and raw sugar and muddle. Top with vodka and lime juice; fill with ice and shake well. Pour the chilled, shaken drink through a bar strainer into a highball glass filled with ice and top with the ginger beer. Place a small bunch of mint on top for garnish.

Edamame Hummus

2 cups frozen shelled edamame
1 garlic clove
Juice of 1 lemon
1/3 cup tahini
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
Kosher salt and freshly cracked
black pepper, to taste
1/4 to 1/2 cup cooking water
Fresh vegetable crudités or
toasted pita points, for serving
yield: 4 servings

What makes this recipe really sing:

Traditional hummus, made with chickpeas, is something I grew up eating and loving. I simply replaced the chickpeas with edamame and ended up with an addictive dip or spread that outshines its predecessor. A bit of ground coriander adds an exotic, almost Indian perfume to the dip.

What to toss in if you have it:

Sprinkle some finely diced seeded tomatoes over the top of the hummus along with a drizzle of basil or lemon olive oil. You really can take this base recipe and add spices and vegetables to your liking.

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil, add the edamame and garlic clove, and cook to package instructions; reserve ½ cup of the cooking liquid and strain. Add the edamame and garlic to a food processor along with lemon juice, tahini, coriander, and salt and pepper. Puree until smooth and, with the motor running, drizzle in ¼ to ½ cup cooking water to reach desired consistency. Taste for seasoning and adjust as necessary. Serve with
crudités or toasted pita points.

Recipes from "5 Ingredient Fix" by Claire Robinson. Copyright © 2010 by Claire Robinson. Used by arrangement with Grand Central Publishing, Inc. All rights reserved.

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