How A Restaurant Menu's Most Expensive Dish Might Be Tricking You

Whether they're eating at one of the best new restaurants in NYC or their favorite neighborhood diners, one thing is certain: Foodies love food. According to a Tasting Table Exclusive Survey, our readers' favorite part of eating out at a fancy restaurant isn't getting dressed up or enjoying a night on the town — it's the food. It can be exciting to sit down at a restaurant for the first time and be presented with a new array of dishes to discover. But, before you order, give that menu a second look. Crafty menu engineering can increase restaurant profits by as much as 15%, reports TouchBistro, and restaurants may be tricking you into ordering expensive items.

That menu might be more than just a list of meals — keep an eye on the layout. Restaurants will often list the most expensive offering toward the top of the menu, says Mental Floss, making the other dishes seem more reasonable by comparison. Per The Guardian, those pricey dishes might also be listed beside the dishes that generate the highest profit for restaurants to encourage folks to choose those. For instance, if the chef gets a killer deal on yellowfin tuna from their fishmonger that week, it's getting listed for $10 next to the $15 toro sashimi. But, at some restaurants, the menu designs are even more calculated than that.

Pay attention to dish order and placement

In the food service industry, menu offerings fit into one of four categories: "stars," "plow horses," "puzzles," and "dogs." It's like a graph in which one axis is profitability and the other is popularity, says TouchBistro. "Stars" are super popular and profitable dishes, like a signature burger. Ingredient costs are relatively low, and the kitchen can expect to be cranking 'em out all night. Some menus, says The Guardian, promote a particular dish by surrounding it with a box. (Think "Hungry Man's Breakfast Special, $18" written in a box on a diner menu.) These are typically "Stars," or at least "Puzzles" — dishes that make restaurants lots of money, but that patrons seldom order. "Plow horses" get ordered pretty often but aren't very profitable for the restaurant. Your favorite wagyu steak might cost you a pretty penny, but it probably didn't cost the chef a whole lot less to buy from the butcher. "Dogs" are dishes with low popularity and low profitability; don't be surprised if one day they drop off the menu altogether.

According to George Mahe, the dining editor of St. Louis Magazine, the bottom right is the most forgettable region of the physical menu for diners. The top left and top right corners stand out the most. It's a bit like a map, and restaurants plug in their dishes accordingly, but knowing how to read the map can be the difference between a staggering check and an affordable one.