Secret Ways Restaurants Try to Make You Eat More

Restaurants are a clever business—not just in the food they serve, but in how they make us eat more than we normally would.

Double burger on wooden planks.Photo: Shutterstock / SosnaRadosna
Photo: Shutterstock / SosnaRadosna

When we sit in a restaurant, we relax into the ambiance, the music, the lighting. The delicious aroma of a rustic vegetarian pizza lures us in. The atmosphere lulls us into comfort, as their playlist becomes our playlist. The lighting is dimmed to “just right.” We sit back, relax and let the restaurant work its magic.

Yes, there are things going on inside of restaurants that you may not have consciously realized. They know their target audience well. Danny Meyer of Tabla, an Indian fusion restaurant in New York City, says in the New York Times, “The chef’s write the music and the menu becomes the lyrics.” When a restaurant owner tells you this, it’s worth paying attention. After all, there is a psychology involved in many aspects of restaurant dining. Here are the most-surprising tactics restaurants are using to trick you into eating more:

Menu Science

Did you know that menu engineers and consultants are a thing? Yes, these are real jobs. And when it comes to creating a strategy to get diners to eat more, they start with the menu. For many restaurants, each element of the menu is an form of advertising thought out by these savvy food experts. Especially pricing. You see, restaurants don’t actually want us to think about spending money. So menu engineers use techniques, such as removing zeros at the end of their prices, to put us at ease. If a dish cost $12.00, for example, they may remove the .00. These extra numbers apparently remind us of how much the meal will actually cost, according to a study conducted by Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration. The less you think you’re spending, the more you’ll eat.

Eliminating dollar signs altogether is another crafty tactic. But remind yourself: A number is still a number. So whether the menu says $12, $12.00 or 12, order what you like, but remember you’ll have to break out the bills or plastic eventually.

Color Me Hungry

Another way restaurants get us to eat is to use warm colors, such as yellow, red and orange, which have proved to make people feel hungrier. And when we’re hungry, we want to dig into comfort foods, which is why so many fast-food chains have red and yellow in their branding. Conversely, there are restaurants that center on purple, green and blue hues. These cool colors act as appetite suppressants, so if you’re watching your weight, you may want to steer toward one of these spots.

Desserts to the Right

Ordering from the salad menu or lighter-bite options can make you feel as if you’re making a healthier choice. But beware: These dishes are often positioned on the left side of the menu. As your eye automatically shifts to the right, you see the desserts. (Raspberry Chocolate Cake, anyone?) Because you’ve only had a salad, ordering a sweet treat won’t hurt. Genius, right?

To avoid being duped, just wait 20 minutes after you’ve eaten before ordering dessert. That’s how long it takes to feel full. Do this and you might find that you’ve had enough while also saving yourself money and inches.

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Cheryl Doherty
I have a degree in English Literature and Creative Writing. I am a writing coach. Sometimes clients come to me to me because they want to write a book, develop content for their website and others discover they wanted to understand a personal situation better, and writing for them acts as a form of therapy. I worked in corporate marketing for ten years and have been a digital marketer developing websites and web content for a further ten. I love adventure. I love to travel. I love to cook with fresh ingredients. I love all things native. My family live in British Columbia. I live in Wales, UK with my two sons. This year we travelled for four months around BC, Canada. We broke out of our comfort zone and lived. It's something that I want to do again and again.