5 ways to make a Menu more Profitable with Neuromarketing

Posted by | September 11, 2015 | Brand Design, Reference | No Comments
5 ways to make your menu profitable

The science of forming a great menu that’s effectively profitable while looking great is real art form. Something I have been trying to master over the past two years, reading about the psychology of persuasion, factual statistics, eye movement studies and great design techniques that can make your menu a key role in the success of your restaurant.

That said here is a list of five great neuro-tips in designing a menu that can help boost sales of your restaurant with simple little tactics. Some great pointers it took me a few years to learn that may help you out in designing your menu! Dig in:

1. The Dreaded List

How many items should we have? That is the golden question — is it not? You may automatically think: more is better, although it is really not to your benefit to list everything believe it or not. Let’s look at it strategically;

People go to grocery stores and they see so many options they do not know what to choose. They become hesitant, they compare, they may; more times then not, walk away. If there was only 5 options they would have made a quick choice, not only that the limited options result in faster buying times — as many studies have proven.

How does this apply to a menu? Let’s say you have a middle class customer base so not a fancy place but not a dive by any means. Your customers are workers and they either come to your establishment for a quick bite, or for a nice evening meal. Regardless they still want their experience to be as less strenuous as possible, especially after a hard days work. If you have so many options it hurts to even think about what to choose for dinner or lunch this may be a problem.

Time and time I have read that having 5-7 listed items in each section of your menu is ideal. Along with a 7 section max, (generally including: starters, mains, deserts etc.) so 50 dishes total. Although this may be high depending on what type of restaurant you have. Just from experience and eating at very successful restaurants, between 20-30 items seems to be a good ratio.

Takeaway: Minimize your menu. Having limited items can be very beneficial, not only to your food budget but your profit margins, makes for quicker turnaround times and can give your customers a better experience overall.

2. Whats in a number?

Which one do you think is most effective? 10, ten, 9.99 or $10.00? There is a huge difference in terms of perception, although they all are basically the same thing. If you put a ‘$’ sign in front of your prices the price will automatically trigger the ‘pain’ part of our brain and restrict customers from buying more. That takes out $10.00.

You would them think ‘ten’ would be the best solution as it doesn’t have any numbers. But that was also crossed out; proven in various studies, the best alternates are 9.99 or just 10. People do have a tendency to refer to the first number, as well people are generally attracted to odd numbers. making 9.99 the best bet. We also like less number of numbers so even a better bet would be ‘9’. But of course that is your descretion to bring down your price by one whole dollar.

Takeaway: Keep those dollar signs out and only if you are a fine dining establishment consider the written alternate.

3. Pictures

It jus funny how most common restaurants have pictures of their food. Even though hiring a food photographer can get costly. So you would think that fine dining restaurants would have food photography although they never seem to. They may have something going…

What does a picture say? a thousand words? That is precisely so. It is a given if you only have one picture on your menu, you will automatically sell more of that item no matter what, because customers see what they are getting.

Although what really happens is by seeing that picture they have imbedded an expectation into their mind. If the meal or plate or food or whatever was in that picture does not look identical to what is brought out, there is automatic disappointment whether consciously or not — even before the customer has had the chance to eat it.

Takeaway: Pictures can sometimes be such a killer of the restaurant experience. I suggest using words to describe the items in very precise detail as this can also trigger emotions affiliated with certain foods. So the customer will imagine and maybe even salivate over what is being described but bot necessarily putting a picture to it.

4. Scent

Scent is actually one of the strongest senses that triggers an experience and can persuade someone into buying something. There was a study done on McDonalds and how it had a particular scent to the restaurant (usually stale oil) although this had turned some people away from the restaurants it also made many of the people salivate, in turn got them to crave it subconsciously.

Although it is hard to trigger scent with a menu, it does come in as part of the experience. When walking by a bakery, can you imaging what your emotions may be? Croissant anyone? Do you see people giving samples? The scent of them making the food may also trigger your experience with the brand itself, having positive subconscious emotions. Have a menu outside your restaurant? maybe crack open the door to get the scent outside your restaurant this may lour  people in.

Takeaway: Try to incorporate scent into your brand as it is the most influential sense. If it is a good experience for the customer they may just crave it.

5. What’s a decoy?

When you think decoy you may think something a a Bond nature, although decoys are commonly used in marketing in general. It in some ways is a mind trick that marketers have ben using for years even before the whole neuro-marketing strategies became big.

So what is it? A decoy is used to persuade someone to pick a certain item out of a list by process of elimination and comparison. When you have listed items, it is proven that the first, second last and last items are the ones people will generally pick (for some reason) and the second item being the 4th popular). When you list your items do not list by price, list by profitability. Your decoy? Have an over priced item at the middle of the list maybe even closer to the bottom depending on how many items. People will see this overly priced item and compare it to the others. Making the others seem less of an expense but more of a deal.

When you go to that new sassy website app and see they have monthly rates. You really like the program, and want to get the upgraded version although do not want to pay the premium price for it? Well notice how they often say: ‘Best Value’. Then the one off to the right is an astronomical price! That indeed is a decoy, trying to get you to get the middle ground item, so that you feel like you are getting a good deal and endorphins start flowing in your body. It’s genius really.

Takeaway: decoys can be tricky although their intention is to highlight key menu items that you want to sell more of; and essentially it will boost sales of those profitable items.


Neuroscience or Neuromarketing; in the past decade become more so mainstream than ever. Studies have been breaking through with some great behavioural information in how we buy, which helps out any restaurant. A great read which I am just making my way through now (and has essentially inspired this post) is a book called Brainfluence by Roger Dooley. It has some great behavioural information and a lot of references to the food industry. I high suggest reading it, and will be doing a book review on it soon!

But that said; never look at the subliminal intentions that may be part of your restaurant experience. It is always the details that makes you a success!

References/studies are listed in Brainfluence by Roger Dooley


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