food / travel

It's The Menu, Stupid: 4 Ways Restaurants Trick Diners

It all looks so good...
It all looks so good...
Nadia Ferrigo

TURIN — As surprising as it may sound, what we order in restaurants has very little to do with what we actually want. It's all about the menu. A recent study, conducted by Cornell University researchers on more than 200 menus and 300 meals in New York, shows that only two things really dictate what we order when dining out: the dish we see written, and the way we imagine it.

Adjectives are key

Think about meals labeled "Pesto Pasta," or "Mixed Salad." They hardly make our taste buds tingle or send our imaginations soaring. Instead, they make us think, "I could make that myself." And even when these dishes come to our table, our expectations are so low that it affects their taste.

But if the menu says "Spaghetti di Gragnano, datterini mussels and Sicilian-flavored pesto," or "A crunchy salad with Pachino cherry tomatoes, topped with a warm vinaigrette," then it's a whole different story.

Improving a plate's description can improve its sales by up to 30%, the study shows. One in 10 customers say that dishes that are described more completely and with a flourish also taste better — and they're willing to pay more for them.

Exotic and nostalgic allusions

Geographic references on menus are very important. They demonstrate that the kitchen is attentive to details and thoughtful about choosing high-quality ingredients.

The more exotic the dish name, the better. "Smooth," "crisp," "fresh," "fragrant." Any reference to touch, taste and texture will always tickle our imagination and appetite. You can also be sure that sales are driven by nostalgic allusions such as "grandmother's recipe," "old-fashioned" and "homemade."

Visual tricks

Cornell University researchers also looked at the way menus are presented. We tend to choose dishes that are displayed at the very top, or very bottom, 25% more often. Our eyes travel from the top left to the bottom right, much like the way we read a newspaper.

Font and colors also matter. Anything written in green, or dishes showcased in font and text boxes, are ordered 40% more often than other plates. Restaurants should avoid menus that have ruined, stained or torn covers because they give consumers the impression that the restaurant is not high quality.

At the same time, a separate dessert menu works as an incentive to make diners order again.

Mind the digits

The last, tricky part of the dining experience is of course the looming bill. If restaurants want to put clients at ease about cost, prices should only have two digits, never four. Currency symbols are also best omitted because leaving them off makes customers think less about what they'll spend as they order their meals.

Have you also noticed the very expensive dishes on the menu? They're there for a good reason — to trick people into ordering other plates.

The study shows there are many ways to capture the imaginations of diners. But the best way for customers to understand what's available? Ask the waiter.

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"The Truest Hypocrisy" - The Russia-NATO Clash Seen From Moscow

Russia has decided to cut off relations with the Western military alliance. But Moscow says it was NATO who really wanted the break based on its own internal rationale.

NATO chief Stoltenberg and Russian Foregin Minister Lavrov

Russian Foreign Ministry/TASS via ZUMA
Pavel Tarasenko and Sergei Strokan

MOSCOW — The Russian Foreign Ministry's announcement that the country's permanent representation to NATO would be shut down for an indefinite period is a major development. But from Moscow's viewpoint, there was little alternative.

These measures were taken in response to the decision of NATO on Oct. 6 to cut the number of personnel allowed in the Russian mission to the Western alliance by half. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the removal of accreditations was from eight employees of the Russian mission to NATO who were identified as undeclared employees of Russian intelligence." We have seen an increase in Russian malicious activity for some time now," Stoltenberg said.

The Russian Foreign Ministry called NATO's expulsion of Russian personnel a "ridiculous stunt," and Stoltenberg's words "the truest hypocrisy."

In announcing the complete shutdown in diplomacy between Moscow and NATO, the Russian Foreign Ministry added: "The 'Russian threat' is being hyped in strengthen the alliance's internal unity and create the appearance of its 'relevance' in modern geopolitical conditions."

The number of Russian diplomatic missions in Brussels has been reduced twice unilaterally by NATO in 2015 and 2018 - after the alliance's decision of April 1, 2014 to suspend all practical civilian and military cooperation between Russia and NATO in the wake of Russia's annexation of Crimea. Diplomats' access to the alliance headquarters and communications with its international secretariat was restricted, military contacts have frozen.

Yet the new closure of all diplomatic contacts is a perilous new low. Kommersant sources said that the changes will affect the military liaison mission of the North Atlantic alliance in Moscow, aimed at promoting the expansion of the dialogue between Russia and NATO. However, in recent years there has been no de facto cooperation. And now, as Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has announced, the activities of the military liaison mission will be suspended. The accreditation of its personnel will be canceled on November 1.

NATO told RIA Novosti news service on Monday that it regretted Moscow's move. Meanwhile, among Western countries, Germany was the first to respond. "It would complicate the already difficult situation in which we are now and prolong the "ice age," German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told reporters.

"Lavrov said on Monday, commenting on the present and future of relations between Moscow and the North Atlantic Alliance, "If this is the case, then we see no great need to continue pretending that any changes will be possible in the foreseeable future because NATO has already announced that such changes are impossible.

The suspension of activities of the Russian Permanent Mission to NATO, as well as the military liaison and information mission in Russia, means that Moscow and Brussels have decided to "draw a final line under the partnership relations of previous decades," explained Andrei Kortunov, director-general of the Russian Council on Foreign Affairs, "These relations began to form in the 1990s, opening channels for cooperation between the sides … but they have continued to steadily deteriorate over recent years."

Kortunov believes the current rupture was promoted by Brussels. "A new strategy for NATO is being prepared, which will be adopted at the next summit of the alliance, and the previous partnership with Russia does not fit into its concept anymore."

The existence and expansion of NATO after the end of the Cold War was the main reason for the destruction of the whole complex of relations between Russia and the West. Today, Russia is paying particular attention to marking red lines related to the further steps of Ukraine's integration into NATO. Vladimir Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov previously stated this, warning that in response to the alliance's activity in the Ukrainian direction, Moscow would take "active steps" to ensure its security.

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