A piece for The Guardian on how restaurateurs design menus so that people pay more
Restaurateurs and those who advise them have long argued that people read menus in predictable ways. The received wisdom holds that a diner will start on the right-hand side of a menu, a little way above the middle, before zooming up to the top right-hand corner. Then he’ll jump backwards to the top left and down the left-hand page, then finally fill in the gaps in the bottom-right and the middle.
Not so, apparently. New research from San Francisco State universityclaims to overturn this notion. Once they had hooked people’s heads up to computers, presented them with menus and studied their eye movements, the researchers found that participants read menus sequentially from left to right, like books. (In part, this confirms Gallup research (pdf) from 1987.)
The findings could have important implications for menu design and the way we order in restaurants. Restaurateurs might need to rethink placing their showcase items at the top-right of their menu or just below it. The menu from Keith McNally’s majestic New York brasserieBalthazar, deconstructed in this paper a couple of years ago, proudly places “Le Bar à Huîtres” at the top-right of the page, with its high-margin plateaux de fruits de mer at $70 and $115 and half a lobster at $23. (It also sticks a prawn cocktail there for $15: this might look expensive in isolation but seems almost cheap beside such expensive dishes.)