How Restaurant Menus Trick You

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If you’ve ever ordered something at a restaurant and thought as the server leaves the table, I didn’t even want that! this is for you. Brian Wansink, the Cornell University psychologist and author who studies eating behavior, has just published a new paper that identifies two ways restaurant menus essentially trick us into ordering foods that we might not have really wanted. 

For one, we’re more likely to order a menu item that’s set apart somehow — perhaps in a box, or written in an eye-catching, colorful font. And we’re also more likely to be attracted to items with fanciful names — after all, “Succulent Italian Seafood Filet” sounds a lot more appetizing than “fish stick,” as Wansink points out in a video posted to his Food and Brand Lab’s site. And, okay, each of these may be slightly obvious, but that doesn’t mean we don’t fall for them: Wansink’s team found that sales of items with descriptive names increased 28 percent over the same food with a plainer name.

What, then, to do? If you’re trying to stick to your guns and order healthful foods when going out to eat, Wansink outlines your strategy in the press release:

The best solution to healthier restaurant dining may be an easy one.  “Just ask your server,” says 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?'”

If you’re not concerned with ordering healthy foods, though — by all means, go nuts on the fish sticks.