Restaurants Trick You Into Eating! How Reading Menus Can Alter Your Choices
When eating at a restaurant, picking an item off the menu is a daunting task. Not only are there endless options, generally speaking, but picking what’s good for you can be seemingly impossible. And if you think you have full control of your own decision making when you’re at a restaurant, think again.
A new study from Cornell University titled “Slim by Design: Menu Engineering Strategies for Promoting High-Margin, Healthy Foods” has found the importance of reading a menu. Published in the International Journal of Hospitality Management, the study looked at the eating habits of 300 diners and examined 217 menus.
According to the researchers, the descriptions on menus and their layouts impact our decisions. More specifically, how food is presented on a menu and how we imagine it to taste play a key role in our decision making. According to lead author Brian Wansink, most foods that are appealing are highlighted or kept in a separate box.
“In most cases, these are the least healthy items on the menu,” said Wansink in a university-released statement.
Additionally, Wansink and his colleagues discovered the benefits of better descriptions. When a dish had more details, people were 28 percent more likely to purchase it and were willing to spend 12 percent more for the item, and they even rated the food as being more delicious — even when the same dish was presented.
What should you do to make healthier choices? The solution is easier than you think. “Just ask your server,” said Wansink. “Ask ‘What are your two or three lighter entrées that get the most compliments?’ or ‘What’s the best thing on the menu if a person wants a light dinner?’”
Last year, a team from the Drexel University School of Public Health found that diners ordered foods with less calories when the menu included nutritional information. According to the researchers, who published their findings in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, diners saved 151 calories, 244 milligrams of sodium, and 3.7 grams of saturated fats when their menus had labels.
“This is the first field-based study of mandatory menu labeling laws that found a large overall adjusted difference in calories between customers who dined at labeled restaurants when compared to unlabeled restaurants — about 155 fewer calories purchased,” said Amy Auchincloss, an assistant professor in the Drexel University School of Public Health and lead author of the study, in a statement.
But researchers from the New York University Langone Medical Center had different findings. Their survey concluded that calorie labels were not helping diners order less food.
“What we’re seeing is that many consumers, particularly vulnerable groups, do not report noticing calorie labeling information and even fewer report using labeling to purchase fewer calories,” study researcher Brian Elbel, an assistant professor of Population Health and Health Policy at the NYU School of Medicine, said in a press release. “After labeling began in Philadelphia, about 10 percent of the respondents in our study said that calorie labels at fast-food chains resulted in them choosing fewer calories.”