Friday, May 14, 2010

Menu Mind Games

Get your diners right where you want them!

What do anchors, bacon, and grandmothers have in common? They're all tactics used to make menus more enticing to diners, of course! The bottom line is the bottom line: You want diners buying food. And you're lucky; before your diners even decide what they're going to order, you're putting an advertisement in their hands– in the form of a menu – pointing them right towards what you want them to order. Or you should be!

Here are 10 tricks of menu psychology that will lead your diners to order what you want them to!

Don't Think in Terms of $$

This is menu psych 101: DO NOT use dollar signs ($$) on your menu. Let's repeat, do not use dollar signs on your menu. It forces diners to focus on the price of the dish rather than on the dishes themselves. Is your menu a list of prices or of meals? We're hoping the latter. Along the same lines, how you price your dish can affect how a diner perceives the quality of the price. For example, at value restaurants such as Applebees or Friendly's, pricing a dish at "9.99" denotes value, but having that same price at a fine dining establishment makes the food sound cheap, and not in a good way. Plus a longer number means more time looking at a number and less on food. In the above example from Rouge Tomate, the restaurant prices dishes in terms of whole dollars.

Columns Kill

One of the best ways to compare numbers is to have them all lined up. So give your diners a break and get them focusing on the food and not the price. Columns force your diners to compare the prices of all your dishes, making them weed out the most expensive rather than focus on the most delicious. However, pricing all your entrees around the same can be a good tactic to prove to your patrons that you are a fairly priced eatery.

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

One of the best ways to sell a dish is to have a picture of it. Well, sometimes. If you're dining at T.G.I Friday's, reading a menu that's more like War and Peace than, well, a menu, you're more likely to choose the Cheesy Bacon Cheeseburger, strategically placed in the upper righthand corner and described in the first slot in the menu, than any other dish on the page. Do you really want to read the War and Peace of menus to choose your dish? Or would you rather just go with what looks good? We're guessing the latter. If you're a fine dining restaurant, however, this tactic isn't going to work for you. Could you imagine Le Bec Fin including an image of their coddled duck egg? Probably not. You're instead going to have to focus on your words.

Adjectives, Adjectives, Adjectives

While using simpler copy is certainly a trend, the words you do use must be precise. In a recent New York Times article, Dr Brian Wansink, director of the Food and Brand Lab at Cornell University, found that descriptive labels on menu items increases sales by as much as 27 percent. Phrases like "Coddled Duck Egg" spark interest in diners while "Welfleet Oyster" gives a sense of place in an industry that is now obsessed with knowing where food comes from.

The Anchor and What's Right Next Door

Imagine seeing a $120 entree on a menu. The thought of purchasing that entree might cause you to gag before even getting your meal. Then, as you browse the rest of the menu, $40 an entree seems like a steal! The initial $120 entree is not necessarily being promoted, although some will most likely order it, it's acting as a decoy to make the rest of the menu look like a bargain. Momfuku Noodle Bar recently added caviar as an anchor, as this robustly priced dish is called, to its inexpensive late night fare. In comparison with $10 to $16 entrees, this upwards of $100 side dish seems a bit flashy. But that might be just their point! In this case, the anchor serves not only to make the rest of the menu look like a steal, but it's also that crazy thing that some customer might just order because it's late at night, it's Momofuku, and, hell, why not? (That's a rhetorical question for the rest of us...)


Bracketing is for the same-dish-that-comes-in-two-different-sizes trick. The two sizes prompt the diner to feel a bit worried that the smaller portion might not be enough and reassure them that for less than double the price, they can get twice the amount of food. Deal, right? Well, sort of. If a diner doesn't eat the extra food and doesn't take home a doggy bag, then, both the food and the diner's money are wasted. However, if you're the restaurant, you just made close to double the profit off of that sale, simply by having two sizes.

The Benefit of Boxes

Boxes draw attention to items on a menu. In this case, RN74 draws attention to its small plates that come in just under $10. Considering this lovely, bite-sized price, diners are likely to either order one of these as an afterthought in addition to their entree or three or four of them instead of an entree, all coming in at a greater price than the just an entree.

The Upper Right Hand Corner

Just as with newspapers, the upper right hand corner of a menu is prime real estate. This is the first place a diner's eyes go. Putting something especially enticing there is a good call. In the case above, a slightly larger dish that can be shared (what a deal, right?) has taken hold. You will notice, however, that per person this entree is just a little more expensive; in addition, it doesn't have to cooked to order, so is an easy order to prepare, a slightly better bill for the restaurant, and a deal for the diner.

The Enhancer: Bacon

If the pork loin at RN74 was just a pork loin, chances are diners would glance over it and keep moving to the next item. However, when that pork loin is bacon-wrapped, everything changes. Bacon is still a buzzword for diners — even if we're bored by food flops like bacon ice cream, we are always enticed to see what the tasty, salted pig-part has been paired with this time. In this case, the bacon makes an otherwise boring dish, excites our intrigue and our taste buds — care for some pork wrapped pork? Yes please.

Mothers and Grandmothers

Diners like the names of restaurant family members on a dish on the menu and they especially like the names of mothers and grandmothers — who doesn't like the image of Momma Clara frying your chicken in the back kitchen of Front Porch? Diners like the idea of a secret family recipe being passed down from generation to generation. In Bill Buford's national bestseller Heat, Mario Batali is quoted as saying, "I know it doesn't make sense and I don't understand it. But ... women are better cooks."

Bonus: Throwing It All Out the Door

This menu's a little different you might notice. First, there are no prices. Second, what the heck is "Hay"? And third, the menu is given to diners at the end of the meal, after they've already eaten.

This menu is from Alinea, Grant Achatz's restaurant in Chicago. Achatz is considered one of the leading chefs in molecular gastronomy cuisine; usually when food reaches the tables in Alinea, it has been so manipulated, it no longer resembles in any way the food ingredients that the chef started with. To him, what was the point of a menu at the beginning of the meal? It would just give diners expectations as to what they would be eating and, since the meal is price-fixed, there is no need for diners to choose what they're going to eat. This menu serves as as a souvenir of the meal diners just ate, a poetic, on paper rendition, if you will. So, when your restaurant becomes as successful as Alinea has been and you've turned the culinary world around as much as Grant Achatz has, then you too can go against all rules of menu psychology.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

9 Meat Cuts You Shoud Be Eating

With the recession, customers want cheaper meat. And with the head-to-tail movement, chefs aren’t just cooking prime rib and terderloin, but the neck and shanks of cows, pigs, and ducks everywhere. Whether it’s the recession or the head to tail movement, normally discarded cuts of meat are making a comeback. And it’s about time! How could we and our diners have gone so long without tender beef cheeks on our menus?

Bath Chaps

Originating in the British City of Bath, Bath chaps are taken from the cheek or jaw of a pig and then cured, much in the way that bacon is. Traditionally, it's coated with breadcrumbs and served as a cold meat, tasting much like ham. Chaps, as they are often refereed to, are a very fatty cut so would add delicious depth to less rich foods like seasonal fruits and vegetables. However, in order to not clog the arteries of your patrons, refrain from pairing it with a triple crème or, god forbid, bacon.

photo by Rachel Black

Beef Cheeks

Despite coming from the same part of the animal as Bath chaps, beef cheeks are much leaner cut on a cow and are characteristically rich, dense-fleshed meat with a fine grain. When braised, they become wonderfully tender; consisting of the muscles that cows use to chew, the muscles are well worked when alive.

photo by Stu_Spivack


Moving down the animal body, chefs looking to stay at the forefront of butcher cuts are moving past the face and onto the neck. Poultry napes do best fried and cooked quickly while larger-animal-necks are similar to shanks and taste most delicious when cooked low and slow. Lamb neck, for example breaks down when braised for a day.

Pig Trotters

As you might be able to gather from the name, pig trotters are what they sound like: Pig’s feet. Keeping with the traditions of soul or Southern cooking, pigs feet are used to remain consistent with the rhetoric of wasting no part of an animal. French, however, also cook a dish called “Pieds de Couchon” which literally translates to feet of pig. Because this cut is literally the hoof of the pig, it’s important to wash thoroughly before cooking. Trotters can be cooked several ways; most commonly, chefs boil them on low heat for several hours in flavored broth or bake them in a bath of butter and breadcrumbs. Either way, trotters are delicious and pair nicely with traditional southern foods like collard greens and black-eyes peas.

photo from goosmurf

Skirt Steak

This cut has been used for awhile as the traditional meat in fajitas, which literally means “belt” in Spanish, but recently it’s had a renaissance in American cuisine. Skirt steak comes from the middle belly section and tends to be long, thin, coarsely textured, and generally more flavorful than most steaks. Because of their course texture, skirt steaks absorbs marinades and sauces better than most cuts and a robust marinade will not easily over power a skirt’s strong flavor.

photo from Stu_Spivack

Beef and Lamb Shank

Taken from the front lower leg of a steer or lamb, this cut it very tough due to the amount of connective tissue. Usually braised or slow cooked, it’s common in soups and stews where it enhances overall flavor. With home-style cooking still all the rage, shin is a great addition to your stews!

Pork Shoulder

Pork shoulder, similar to shank, is great when slow cooked or braised. Pork shoulder is not just the shoulder of the pig but also the whole leg. Because of its fat marbling, it is a very forgiving cut of meat and won’t dry out easily. As a muscle, however, it is best when cooked long, over low heat. One of the most popular and traditional ways of preparing pork shoulder is pulled pork, where the shoulder is braised and then put in the oven for a good portion of an afternoon or morning. The pork will literally fall apart and melt in your patrons’ mouths. Salivating yet?

photo from Marshall Astor - Food Pornographer

Tri Tip

California cut. Newport steak. Sirloin tip. Sirloin butt. Culotte. Bottom sirloin. You get the idea: Tri-tip steak goes by a lot of names. But there are only two of these triangular shaped steaks per cow — one per butt check, if you will. Because it’s at the butt of the animal, it’s not a kosher cut of meat. However, this strongly flavored steak is great for roasting, broiling, or a combination of stove and oven cooking. One thing to beware of is that this steak will get very tough when cooked past medium-rare.

photo from The Infamous Gdub


Oxtail is traditionally the tail of an ox, a castrated steer, and completes the nose to tail movement. Oxtail, like many of the cuts in this article is a tougher, well marbled meat. What makes it different, however, is how close it is to the bone — the meat encircles vertebrae and includes a lot of iron-rich marrow. Because they are so fatty, chefs often cook oxtail ahead, skim the fat off, and reheat to be served.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

2010 Food Predictions

What will the New Year bring to food?

In with the new, out with the old! Happy New Year from Chef's Blade! We've consulted top ranking professionals, reviewed surveys, and used our own know-how to bring you these 10, 2010 food trend predictions! Some predictions stem from 2009 trends while others are totally new; see if you agree with us!

Move Over Celebrity Chefs

Racheal Ray. Paula Dean. Bobby Flay. Anthony Bourdain. Tom Colicchio. These celebrity chefs are household names these days, but with the rise of home cooking food bloggers like Julie Powell of Julie and Julia and Clotilde Dusoulier of Chocolate and Zucchini, maybe we don't want limit ourselves to the outside egos of celebrity chefs. And you know what they say — the bigger they are, the harder they fall. Watch out!

Comfort Food

The trend started in 2009 but shows no signs of slowing down. Last year we fell in love with Southern comfort food and now can't wait to integrate these home-cooked specialties into our own regional cuisines. Plus, you know how southerners believe bigger is always better? That goes for portion size too, which means more delicious, buttery leftovers for tomorrow. Yum!

Small Plates

Diners don't want to try just one dish, they want to try as many things as possible. Variety is the spice of life, right? So small plates — which have just recently exploded in popularity — should continue on as a major trend in 2010.

Taste Buds for Latin American Foods

Maybe it's the small plates, maybe it's boredom with Asian and European cuisines, but Latin American cuisine is set to be the trendsetter in 2010 according to Dr. Victor Gielisse, the Associate Vice President of Business Development at the Culinary Institute of America. Latin American cuisine derives influence from Native American, European, Asian, and African cuisine and incorporates ancient grains, such as quinoa, as well as fresh fruits and vegetables, often stewing these foods for hours to create wonderful blends of flavors.

Bang for Your Buck

With 2009, came recession specials, but the hard times still aren’t over so you're going to have to make your diners keep feeling like they're getting the best bang for their buck. But keep in mind that your diners are probably sick and tired of hearing about the recession and may not want their discounts labeled with the R-word. After all, it's been a year already, and what makes that discount special any more?

Twitter, Facebook, and Chef's Blade

The Culinary Institute of America surveyed its readers and they predicted that one of the greatest resources for 2010 would be social media tools such as Twitter and Facebook, and (of course!) Chef's Blade. You won’t be limited to contacting your immediate network, instead you'll be able to reach most of your target audience, excluding the few poor souls that still haven't yet engaged with social media. If you use these tools properly plus be able to learn a lot from your own peers!

Beyond Sustainability

>Sustainability has been a big issue in the restaurant industry for the last few years, but chefs should continue to develop their knowledge of issues involving not only sustainability but also organics, GMOS, and health and wellness. These are all very complicated issues and diners are educated more then ever, so the wise chef will have to be an informed one to be able to answer all his or her diners’ enthusiastic and prying questions.

Guest Experience

Mike Gibbons, the head of the National Restaurant Association, says his number one advice to restaurants is to provide diners with a superior guest experience. While economic recovery is expected, it won't happen overnight and the restaurants that provide the most personal experience will certainly be the ones diners will come back to again and again.

Health Care Reform

This is the biggest thing that could affect your business this year. On one hand, we all want our workers healthy but, on the other, many restaurant owners haven't been paying for their employees' health insurance. Now there's a good chance they will have to. How each restaurant deals with this could cause minor to major changes in the kitchen.

Get Savvy: Smartphones

Unless you've been living under a rock, you know what a smartphone is and you've realized a good majority of your customers are using them. And that's not going to stop anytime soon. How many of your customers say they've found you on Yelp? Hopefully some, because if they aren't, start a profile today. Word of mouth alone isn't going to do it these days and whether you like it or not, people on the go will be using applications and websites such as OpenTable, Yelp, and MenuPages to figure out where they're dining. You had better be there for them to search for, otherwise, you'll just be missing out.