Restaurant Menu Psychology: What You Need To Know

Have you spent time considering the consumer psychology of ordering and how this affects your restaurant’s website? For companies like Eat24 and Dominos online ordering is big business and these huge online food ordering companies have invested into researching consumer behaviour online and adapting their website accordingly. If you want to boost your online sales like Eat24 and Dominos read our top 3 consumer psychology tips for increasing online orders.

1. Ordering Without a “Social Guard”

The pressures which people feel when ordering with another human being can affect what they choose to order. For example, when a customer is ordering in store or over the phone, there may be a busy or noisy atmosphere making them feel rushed. This added pressure of clearly communicating an order with time and noise constraints will usually mean that customers stick to their standard, simplistic orders.

Restaurant Menu PsychologyAn interesting study demonstrates additional pressure that customers feel when another person is taking their order. Whilst working on some research for Nescafe, Malcolm Gladwell found that most Americans, when they were asked what kind of coffee they liked replied with “a dark, rich, hearty roast”. In actuality roughly 25 – 27% of Americans prefer this rich kind of coffee with the majority choosing weak, milky coffee 1. This is just one example which demonstrates how people’s judgement is so often clouded by aspiration, peer pressure and marketing campaigns.

It’s no secret that we all act a little differently when we’re comfortable in privacy, alone with ourselves. We all have what is referred to psychologically as a “social guard” which inhibits us from making truly introspective decisions when we are in the social company of others2. Of course different people are affected by their social guard to differing degrees, but when people are on their own using an online ordering system they are allowed to entirely drop their social guard. This is good news for your business, particularly if you offer a number of customisable menu options, as without a social guard present people will add to their orders in often surprising ways increasing the average order value.

As an added bonus, Dominos research indicates that without human interaction, noise and distractions that can often come with ordering over the phone or in person, online orders are more accurately delivered than orders taken by a person, increasing customer satisfaction3.

Restaurant Menu Psychology - Restaurant Marketing

2. Is Your Menu Layout Upselling?

As we have already discussed, people are more inclined to order weird and wonderful combinations and often larger orders when they are by themselves and without a social guard. The additional benefit of online ordering is that the customer has the whole menu right there in front of them, often with images at the time of ordering. As people are alone with the menu, they tend to spend more time with it and thus order things which they may not usually pick. Eat24 CMO Amir Eisenstein comments on this trend “If you order a pizza over the phone you’ll just tell them to bring an XL pizza and a Coke. But when you go online, you see the whole menu. All of a sudden, people order appetizers, ribs, salads, and stuff they don’t normally order over the phone. They have more time on the menu, they spend more time on the menu, and they order slightly more items than over the phone.”3

3 Ways Psychology Affects Restaurant Online OrderingKnowing that people are inclined to spend more time on your menu online and likely order more creates a good opportunity for you to make the most of your menu layout to promote certain items. Research has shown that people tend to scan a menu in a z-shaped pattern but the use of boxes, icons, pictures, bold or coloured text will automatically catch people’s eye4. So if you are trying to promote a special or a set menu, consider making these items, stand out visually on your website’s menu page.

Other studies have looked at the psychology around pricing and how this affects menu layout. Putting your highest priced items next to items with a high markup creates a mental “anchor” in reader’s mind which essentially means that lower priced items with a high mark-up will appear better value in the eyes of the consumer6. The outcome for such a layout would typically mean you see more sales of the lower priced item near the expensive anchor choice.

 

Another consideration when writing your menu is the language which you use to describe your dishes. Click To Tweet

 

Oxford experimental psychologist Charles Spence conducted some research on the effect of the names of dishes. The results of this experiment show that people perceive foods with an “ethnic label” as more authentic6. Additionally, an evocative description was shown to positively affect diner’s comments on the dishes value. Charles Spence says “A label directs a person’s attention towards a feature in a dish, and hence helps bring out certain flavours and textures”. Try to strike a careful balance to ensure that you do not get a backlash of menu clichés which put the modern customer off.

Restaurant Menu Psychology - Restaurant Marketing Agency

3. Make Mobile Ordering Easy

It goes without saying that thinking about how the customer navigates your online ordering system and the usability of this system can have a serious impact on sales. One of the key considerations to encourage the maximum online order value is to make sure that your website is friendly for mobile devices. If your online ordering system does not render properly in mobile devices then you may be missing a big chunk of your audience and revenue. Dominos and Eat24 are two companies which are at the forefront of mobile strategy. Eisenstein from Eat24 has found that mobile users will typically have a higher order value than those taken on a desktop. To cater fully to mobile customers Eat24 and Dominos have created an app making online ordering even easier on mobiles and tablets. Eat24 report positive results for the app finding that people not only spend more per order when using the app but also found that app users ordered more regularly than desktop customers and had a higher retention rate3.

Mobile Device Restaurant Online OrderingThis high order value on mobile devices could be, in part, due to the functionality of touch screens. When using a touch screen to order food, there is much more opportunity for impulse purchases which are highly visible, easily touched and easily added to the order. Consider the state of mind that people are in when they order food online, they are too tired or busy to cook, therefore making the ordering process as simple as possible will allow consumers to indulge their impulses and deliver a pleasing service that satisfies their needs.

Thanks for reading about Restaurant Menu Psychology

If you want to develop your website or online ordering system to increase upsells and cross sales then contact Recipe Social today for expert advice from the digital marketing and restaurant industry specialists.

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Sources:

  1. http://blog.ted.com/2006/09/20/malcolm_gladwel_1/
  2. http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/in-flux/201410/the-importance-being-alone
  3. http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/wordofmouth/2012/feb/07/the-hidden-messages-in-menus?guni=Article:in%20body%20link
  4. http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2010/jan/21/menus-cunning-marketing-ploys
  5. http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/wordofmouth/2013/may/08/restaurant-menu-psychology-tricks-order-more

Image sources:

“Waitress taking an order” by photo by Alan Light. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://tinyurl.com/mtm6ayc

“Vankahvalti” by Tanyel – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://tinyurl.com/krjftwo

“The iOS family pile (2012)” by Blake Patterson – Flickr: the iOS family pile (2012). Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://tinyurl.com/p7m827v