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4 ways restaurant menus are designed to make you spend more

ways menus make you spend more
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When you go to a restaurant, you likely don’t think of a menu as an advertising tool — it just has all the necessary information on it, after all. But it turns out menus are as much of an ad for expensive items as anything else in the media.

Read more: 3 restaurant menu items you should never order

How restaurants get you to spend more

After catching a recent post on Quora that questioned all the ways restaurants conspire to make you spend more, we tapped Marcy McGuire, a designer with 99designs, an online graphic design firm based in San Francisco, to weigh in on the topic. Though she’s reluctant to say the following four tactics trick consumers to part with their money, she does admit they’re meant to catch their attention.

1. Well-organized categories

One of the biggest aims of McGuire’s job is to make the menu well-organized. “I’m a big fan of framing the menu categories,” she said in an email. That makes it easier for consumers to find what they’re looking for; if they can’t, they likely won’t return. “On that same note,” McGuire adds, “type size and legibility are also huge factors in menu design. It needs to be easy to read.”

2. Splashy photos

“Photos can be useful if they are good and truly represent the product,” McGuire said. “I love to use illustrations to enhance the design.” Typically, she’ll keep the color scheme simple and choose hues that complement the establishment’s “vibe.” “Menus should be welcoming,” McGuire said. “I want to design a menu that the guest will want to read, [and come back again to] order something else they saw that sounded good.”

3. Enticing descriptions

Think about it: “Mouth-watering lamb burger with bleu cheese crumbles” sounds a lot more exciting than simply saying “lamb burger.” McGuire says she encourages restaurant owners to have fun with their entree descriptions so they sound more like an advert than a sad grocery list. Adjectives are key, too. “Crispy, delicious, drizzled, to perfection and so on” can make a big difference. “Reading the menu item descriptions should invoke a visual,” McGuire said.

4. Using boxes & white space

Perhaps the most requested menu-design technique, McGuire said, is using boxes. They help to break up an otherwise empty space and are great for grouping items together. “I also use color quite a bit,” she says, in order to draw viewer’s eyes to a particular item. Another effective way to draw the eye to an area is by using white space. “This technique is generally used on menus with a more minimal approach,” McGuire said.

Read more: How to save money at America’s 8 favorite restaurants

[Editor’s Note: Don’t let yourself fall into the overspending trap, whether at a restaurant or your favorite store. You can use this free tool to track your financial goals, like building good credit, each month on]

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