It’s something you’ve done hundreds, if not thousands, of times: sit down at a restaurant, look over the menu to decide what you want to eat, and place your order. But hidden inside every menu are subtle hints about what you should order – and what you shouldn’t – as well as ways to save money and get the most bang for your buck.
Designing a restaurant menu is nothing short of an art form. Seriously, there are entire companies based around advising restaurants on how to properly lay out their menus to maximize profits, highlighting some items over others. For example, our eyes tend to be drawn to items enclosed in boxes, so they’ll put boxes around items with the highest profit potential, treating them like “featured items.” Also, a $20 shrimp cocktail might look pricey when grouped with $12 salads, but not alongside a $75 shellfish plateau.
The rules of menu-writing are changing, however, and at plenty of restaurants the traditional methods of dividing offerings into appetizers, entrees, and sides have gone out the window, replaced with Small Plates and Large Plates or even with one simple list, leaving it to the diner to figure out (presumably on the basis of price) which offerings are appetizers and which are mains. Still, if you know what to look for, it’s possible to not only order the highest-quality dish on the menu, but to stay within your budget as well.
Here are 11 ways that you’re reading the restaurant menu wrong, along with handy tips and tricks for making sure that when it comes time to place your order, you’re not the one still trying to make up your mind while everybody (including your server) gives you dirty looks. And better yet, to insure that when your food arrives, everyone else will be jealous that you picked the right thing.
Check the Menu Online First
We’ve all been there: you spend so much time chatting with your tablemates that when it’s times to order you’ve barely had a chance to look over the menu. Spend some time looking it over at home before you even leave for the restaurant; that way you’ll be well-prepared.
Plan Your Budget Ahead of Time
Looking on line helps with this. Know exactly how much money you’re planning on spending before you even leave the house. This way you can ignore the menu items that are out of your price range and not be surprised when the bill arrives.