How restaurants trick you to spend more money

If you love to eat out (and let’s face it, who doesn’t?!), you might not even realize just how sneaky your favorite restaurants are in making you eat more and spend more money! It starts as soon as you look at the menu and lasts up until you’ve paid the bill, and you’ll barely even notice it. Here is how they do it!


You may have noticed that some menus list their prices as numbers without the dollar sign. Although this might seem like an aesthetic choice, it is actually based on psychological research that shows that people are more likely to spend more money if they don’t have the currency sign in front of the number. It’s as if they can separate the idea of the money from themselves if they can’t see the sign. You will also notice words such as ‘sumptuous’ or ‘chef’s famous’ in the descriptions and this is because colorful descriptions increase sales up to 27%!

Shape and size of the plates

The science behind this trick is based on the Delboeuf illusion. When you have two circles of the same size, if you put another circle around one that is just a little bigger, and then a circle around the other that is much bigger, the first circle will look dramatically bigger than the second. This is used in restaurants to vary the size of the plates to make you think you are eating more or less. Not only will it look like more food, but research has shown that you actually feel more full if you eat from a small plate, which is why all you can eat buffets use very small dishes. If you are paying for what you order, entrees will likely be on larger plates so you feel as though you can eat a lot more for your main course and so order something bigger.


We are programmed to believe that some drinks “belong” in certain glasses to the point that if we feel that a drink is in the “wrong” glass, it causes psychological anguish and we will be unlikely to order another. Certain shapes also make you drink faster; for example, we are more likely to finish beer from a curved glass, much faster than a straight one, causing us to order more drinks with our meal. The unusual perspective of the glass makes it harder to pace yourself.

Shape symbolism

We also believe that round things taste sweet and things with angles are bitter. For example, the same chocolate cut into buttons will be perceived as tasting sweeter than if it were cut into chunks, This trick can be used to change the way food tastes to us in restaurants! They can also use sensation transference which is where we transfer the sensation from the utensils or glassware to the food we eat from it. For example, a cool colored container (e.g., Pepsi’s blue can) can make the drink seem cooler and more refreshing! We also associate weight with quality, so by using heavier utensils, you will feel as though you are getting a much fancier meal. This is why we believe that yogurt eaten with a silver spoon tastes nicer than with a plastic one.

As you can see, there are a lot of psychological influences that affect how much money we spend at a restaurant. Next time you go out to eat, see how many you can spot!