Restaurants are calling in expert consultants to help them give you less food for the same amount of money. This clearly goes against the American way, which is embodied by the $5.99 Denny's Grand Slam Breakfast. The Washington Post reports that the tough economy is hurting restaurants' revenue across the country, and they're turning to devious tactics like smaller plates, lighter forks, and more vegetables to make you less likely to notice that your steak has gotten smaller. And the menus are being tweaked—apparently we are all psychological sheep.
"The first thing I tell them is to round up every price that ends with 95 cents to 99 cents. You've got an item $10.95, raise it to $10.99. If it's $7.75, make it $7.79. All the chains have done it — Applebee's, Chili's, all of them. It's just four cents and your customers won't notice, but that could easily mean $5,000 to $15,000 a year for the restaurant."
There's a science to where on the menu you display that price, too, he says. Take a typical two-column menu: The description of the food is on the left, and the price is an inch or two from the description, on the right. Bad idea, says Mentzer. Get rid of the second column, he recommends, and put the price at the end of the sentence that describes the dish.
"You want people to read the price after they've read the description," he explains, "not before."
Spelling out prices on the menu instead of printing them in numerals supposedly also helps people buy more, but I always thought it was a damning sign of pretentiousness. In any case, the article is quick to point out that this is aimed strictly at increasing the food industry's profit margins, not at making Americans any more fit or less fat than we already are. Relax, fat Americans.