Menu Tricks Not To Fall For
Menus are designed to make you crave more food, believe you’re hungrier than you are, check your calorie guilt at the door and believe everything is a good deal. That’s why you walk into a restaurant expecting to spend $20 and end up signing a check for $50. That bill can be a little shocking, which is strange because you knew what you were doing–you added the side salad and the dessert. Nobody forced your hand in the matter. But after you’re done enjoying the food (which you devoured in 20 minutes) you’re left with the bloat and the bank account guilt for hours or days. Here are menu tricks not to fall for.
Appetizers for two, lite eaters, etc
Menus often tell you for what occasion each item is. They may put cute little notes like “perfect for two” or “for big eaters” next to items. This makes couples feel unromantic if they don’t get the appetizer for two and it challenges men who call themselves big eaters to get the triple size burrito.
The “healthy” section
Some menus try to help you out by organizing their lighter fare under one category. But they tend to upcharge for these, while items on other parts of the menu could be just as healthy if not healthier. For example, there may be a $16.95 farmers market salad under the lighter fair, but a perfectly light, $13 chicken breast with broccoli under the chicken section.
Better prices on more meat
You can get a 4-ounce burger for $12 or a half pounder for $18. But do you really need half a pound of meat in one sitting? Your colon certainly doesn’t.
Fixed price menus
If you order an appetizer, salad, entree, and dessert separately, you’ll spend $60. OR you can get that all on a fixed price menu for $45. But if you’d never seen the fixed price menu, you probably would have only ordered a salad and an entree for $30.
Half off happy hour
Beware of the happy hour menu. Restaurants tend to cut down portion sizes on happy hour menus, which means you need to order three things to fill up. You would’ve spent less if you’d ordered one thing off of the regular menu.
The $2 upsell
Your item comes with a side salad BUT you can upgrade your side to onion rings, clam chowder or a Ceasar salad for $2. The mere option of adding them for a discount price only makes you think of how much cheaper they are compared to if you’d ordered them a la carte. But you don’t think about the fact that those items are not healthy.
Making it a meal
You can add a drink and chips, or two sides, for $4. But your diet didn’t really need those sides of mashed potatoes and macaroni salad, and most drinks and chips have no nutritional value.
Organizing it by protein
Seafood, chicken, red meat etc. When menus break things up like this then you think of the relative health of the protein versus the dish. For example, chicken Parmesan isn’t exactly healthy, but you feel good because you’re not ordering from the steak section.
Listing minute ingredients
Some restaurants list ingredients that are barely in a dish to make it sound healthy. For example, they’ll tell you a filet is served on green bean and beet purée, but you get barely two tablespoons of that.
Pricing in brackets
You’ll often find that items are just under $10, right under $20, or barely reaching $30. This is because round numbers like $20 make you think more seriously about what chunk of your paycheck you just spent on that sandwich.
Adding “locally sourced”
You feel like a good person when you purchase locally sourced food. But a pizza that uses locally sourced tomatoes for the sauce is still a pizza. It just may cost more than other pizzas.
Making multi-flap menus
Multi-flap menus are designed to overwhelm you, so you end up ordering things you’re familiar with, which the restaurant has conveniently overpriced. You’d rather spend more money than spend more time studying the menu. But explore a bit and you could save some money.
Giving food a charming name
The Santa Fe this and Mama’s Italian that. These kinds of names tell a story, create a vibe, make you nostalgic and get you to spend $25 on lasagna or eat a heavy pot pie when you meant to get a salad.
Hiding the smaller sizes
A lot of restaurants offer smaller sizes of items, like a cup of soup rather than a bowl or a personal size pizza rather than a medium. You just have to ask, because you may not see it on the menu.
Spaghetti Saturday, Taco Tuesday
It seems like if a food gets its own day that it’ll be cheaper on that day. The restaurant may have big signs that say “spaghetti bowl just $10.95 on spaghetti Saturday.” But if you looked closer you’d see that spaghetti would be the same price on Wednesday.
Bottomless pancakes cost $20, while a short stack costs $8. But most people can’t eat more than two short stacks in one sitting, so buying them a la carte would have saved them $4.
Calling something “vintage” “aged” or “imported” makes you feel like it’s rare and will be hard to find again–so you’d better order it here! But is aged Parmesan cheese on the $25 cheese platter much better than regular Parmesan cheese?
Breaking up menus
One for lunch, one with specials, one with happy hour. It makes you feel like you’re missing out if you don’t order from each menu. You also feel rushed to place orders without putting much thought into them, because the second you sit down, you feel behind on your reading homework.
Listing the size of the steak
Why would you get the 6 oz steak when you can get the 8 oz or 10 oz?! Listing these sizes makes you worry you’ll be left hungry if you get the smaller one, but you wouldn’t be.
Baiting you with expensive items
Restaurants strategically put a very expensive item right above another overpriced but slightly cheaper item. This makes the relatively affordable thing next to the very expensive thing look like a good price.