To be fair, you wanted it anyway.
Lest anyone forget, a restaurant is a business. It involves hospitality with a staff that wants to provide customers with a great experience and even better food, but the bottom line is money. You can bet your bottom dollar that restaurants want to make as much of it as possible. Profit margins are shockingly low for restaurants, so they need to do everything they can to entice you to spend as much as possible. Call it subliminal stimuli or flat-out desperate, but either way they’re gonna get you to buy more food and drinks.
Dinner and a show
If you’ve ever been to a restaurant that has a dessert cart, it’s there for a reason. Seeing a dessert in all its confectionary glory makes it way more tempting than just reading about it on the menu. That’s why when you walk into The Cheesecake Factory, you see all those sweets lined up like little soldiers ready to sacrifice their slice for you. A restaurant that has tableside creme brulee service is doing that so other customers will see the spectacle of sugar being caramelized by a torch. Not only does it smell delicious, it’s like having dinner and a show. I worked at a chain restaurant that had us carry the Death by Chocolate dessert low and slow throughout the restaurant to the table that ordered it so other customers would follow suit. And they always did.
It's just common scents
Ever order fajitas at a Mexican restaurant that arrived sizzling with smoke and awe? That carne asada wasn’t grilled on that skillet. The skillet sat under the salamander (it’s like a really intense broiler) until the steak, chicken, shrimp, and vegetables were ready and then placed onto the skillet. Seconds before it left the kitchen, lime juice was squeezed from a bottle onto the hot skillet creating the sizzle. As the server carries it through the restaurant it creates a scene of great pageantry. It’s an illusion worthy of David Copperfield. Other customers want it so they too can take part in the showiness. Oh, and it just happens to be one of the more expensive things on the menu. It’s a win-win situation for everyone. Well, except for the server who definitely has to wash their hair now and may or may not develop permanent lung damage from it.
I waited tables in a restaurant at an international hotel chain that opened for dinner at 5 p.m. When the doors were opened, customers were immediately enveloped in the aroma of Italian cooking that filled the dining room. “Oh my, the food smells so good!” they would say. The food actually was very, very good, but what they didn’t know was that at 4:59 p.m. our chef Gary would walk through the restaurant with a pan of butter, thyme, and oregano that he had just sautéed for this sole reason. He paced the entirety of the floor making sure his pan of butter and herbs gave off its scent that would make customers even more hungry than they thought they were. It’s like he lit a Tour of Italy scented candle.
You're in luxe
Menus are full of ways to persuade customers to order particular items. I notice it at my favorite old school diner in Queens. They have giant, physical, laminated menus. The booths are from 1984 and they definitely don’t do QR codes. Some of the items on the menu have a box drawn around them or a different font that draws my eye like a moth to the flame of a candle that smells like a bacon, egg, and cheese. These highlighted items are more expensive than some of the other things on the menu. And a “deluxe” cheeseburger sounds better than the regular one, but are tomato and lettuce really all that luxe?
Related: How a Menu Is Made
Eyes on the extra fries
There’s nothing wrong with any of these restaurant tactics. It’s a necessary strategy right up there with upselling. If someone asked me as their server for a vodka and tonic, my next question was “Would you like Grey Goose or Ketel?” It’s literally why McDonalds says, “Do you want fries with that?” Businesses need to make money to stay open. The next time you go out to eat, see if you notice anything. And enjoy those free nuts or pretzels at the bar which will make you thirsty enough to buy a second drink.
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