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Menu descriptions may influence your perception of food taste and how much you should pay

Menu descriptions

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(NaturalNews) Being mindful of menu descriptions and menu layout can help one get the most out of their dining experience, not just in terms of how much they are willing to spend, but also in terms of what they actually want to eat. Some menu descriptions are set up to trick consumers into buying foods that they don't even want, or make them pay more for something cheap and generic. Even fonts can trick the eyes and fool the mind into wanting foods not as nutritious as advertised. Words like lite and fresh make the consumer think they are eating a more nutritious meal.

A Cornell study recently published in the International Journal of Hospitality Management breaks down the psychology of menu descriptions. After analyzing 217 menus at 300 or more diners, the researchers learned that two things matter most when ordering out at a restaurant: what consumers see on the menu and how they imagine the food will taste. Font and wording can fool the mind, especially when the customer is hungrier than usual.

Bold, highlighted and colored fonts trick the mind into ordering unhealthy foods

The first distinction researchers made in the study was in the font of the words and the way those words were highlighted, positioned and separated from the rest of the items in the menu. Food descriptions that attract the most attention are either in bold, highlighted or set apart in a text box. On average, these items actually sell more than items listed next to them. In the study, the researchers realized that these are typically the least healthy items on the menu.

Flowery language boosts sales of generic menu items

The researchers also found out that food items with eloquent descriptions were perceived as better tasting. Consumers are more apt to purchase items with wordy descriptions that make the food sound more appetizing.

In one of their experiments, the researchers changed the menu item names to make them sound more appealing. When they used the basic term Seafood Filet to sell the entree, customers weren't impressed. When the same entree was sold under the name Succulent Italian Seafood Filet, more customers ordered it. The same phenomenon occurred when they changed Red Beans and Rice to Cajun Red Beans and Rice. They saw a 28% sales increase for a basic bean and rice entree because customers were now viewing the food as tastier, even though the recipes were the same.

Consumers willing to pay 12 percent more for a menu item with descriptive language

The researchers also found out that they could mark the price up on menu items with more descriptive wording, and customers would pay extra for it. In fact, customers were willing to pay an average of 12% more money for a menu item with a descriptive name.

This might be why some customers are easily disappointed at a restaurant when they finally receive their food. The food might not line up with the flowery language used to describe it in the menu. Many entrees on the menu may actually be nearly identical, but with better descriptive wording, some menu items can appear tastier. In the end, the consumer might have to pay more for something that isn't any different from a lighter-sounding option on the menu.

Lead author of the study Brian Wansink says to ask the server, "'What are your two or three lighter entrees that get the most compliments?' or 'What's the best thing on the menu if a person wants a light dinner?'"

Being mindful of menu descriptions can theoretically save a customer 12 percent or more, while also giving them exactly what they want. For the health-conscious, mindful menu reading and asking for substitutions can make all the difference. It's always best to ask for broccoli or a salad instead of the default side of French fries.

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