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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 Problem With Always Blaming Climate Change For Natural Disasters

Climate change is real, but a closer look at the science shows there are many factors that contribute to weather-related disasters. It is important to raise awareness about the long-term impact of global warming, but there's a risk in overstating its role in the latest floods or fires.

People on foot, on bikes, motorcycles, scooters and cars navigate through a flooded street during the day time.

Karachi - People wade through flood water after heavy rain in a southern Pakistani city

Xinhua / ZUMA
Axel Bojanowski


BERLIN — In September, thousands of people lost their lives when dams collapsed during flooding in Libya. Engineers had warned that the dams were structurally unsound.

Two years ago, dozens died in floods in western Germany, a region that had experienced a number of similar floods in earlier centuries, where thousands of houses had been built on the natural floodplain.

Last year saw more than 1,000 people lose their lives during monsoon floods in Pakistan. Studies showed that the impact of flooding in the region was exacerbated by the proximity of human settlements, the outdated river management system, high poverty rates and political instability in Pakistan.

There are many factors that contribute to weather-related disasters, but one dominates the headlines: climate change. That is because of so-called attribution studies, which are published very quickly after these disasters to highlight how human-caused climate change contributes to extreme weather events. After the flooding in Libya, German daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung described climate change as a “serial offender," while the Tageszeitung wrote that “the climate crisis has exacerbated the extreme rainfall."

The World Weather Attribution initiative (WWA) has once again achieved its aim of using “real-time analysis” to draw attention to the issue: on its website, the institute says its goal is to “analyse and communicate the possible influence of climate change on extreme weather events." Frederike Otto, who works on attribution studies for the WWA, says these reports help to underscore the urgent need for climate action. They transform climate change from an “abstract threat into a concrete one."

In the immediate aftermath of a weather-related disaster, teams of researchers rush to put together attribution studies – “so that they are ready within the same news cycle," as the New York Times reported. However, these attribution studies do not meet normal scientific standards, as they are published without going through the peer-review process that would be undertaken before publication in a specialist scientific journal. And that creates problems.

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