The Restaurant Racket: What’s On The Cards


In the first of a five-part series, Eoin Higgins reveals the tricks of the ‘drinks-friendly eatery’ trade to get you to spend more …

No one goes out anymore as much as they go out to eat. We’ve all sat around (getting plump) while it happened: in urban centres all over the land – since those in the flush of youth seem to have legged it to chase their fortunes in sunnier, monier climes – the social scene, especially in Dublin, has turned from one that caters to millennials with fun pubs and late night clubs to one where plump middle-aged revelers are lavished with concept drinks ‘spaces’, that also sell food. Some people, generously in my opinion, call them restaurants.

So, as mega pub groups, often run by lardy ‘publicateurs’, buy up pubs and clubs to open carbon copy ‘drinkaurants’ – inspired by what was cool in London or New York three years ago – it pays to know the tricks employed by the always-lurking-in-the-background bean counters who help turn grungy boozers, whose profits have dwindled, into solely profit-driven restaurant machines. It’s all about getting you to part with more cash than you’d really wanted to …

Part I – What’s on the Cards

From the environment to how the menu is laid out, there are lots of tricks employed to get you to spend more and how much we spend is often determined by the way the menu is presented. You might think we read menus from left to right but research has shown that we tend to scan, beginning in the top right-hand corner. And this is often where we find the jaw-dropper, a hugely expensive item that makes everything else look as cheap as chips by comparison. So you might find the big money Wagyu Cote-du-boeuf here, a Flintstones-sized steak that costs the guts of a hundred quid, but it’s for two, so that’s okay … apparently. The expensive item also serves to gain publicity for a restaurant and a business might have only one of the item in question since even the owners don’t think anyone will bite.

The tactic backfired recently, however, at an Irish restaurant where a critic ordered the expensive item only to have it brought out overcooked. When he complained that it was overdone, the restaurant didn’t have another one in stock to offer, which didn’t go down too well, for either party. Other menu tactics include: centre-aligning listed dishes so it’s difficult to compare prices; not using a currency symbol – a study done by Cornell University found that punters would buy significantly more from a menu that just had numbers for prices; and boxes, illustrations and pictures – there is an art to commercial menu design and those who know how to do it, can direct customers to specific items without diners ever knowing they’ve been baited and switched.

Next week … Part II – The Tender Touch – How the healing art of touch can ignite your desire to tip, generously.

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