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Blast from the past

Paul Alper points us to this news article, The Secret Tricks Hidden Inside Restaurant Menus, which is full of fun bits:

There is now an entire industry known as “menu engineering”, dedicated to designing menus that convey certain messages to customers, encouraging them to spend more and make them want to come back for a second helping.
“Even the binding around the menu is passing us important messages about the kind of experience we are about to have,” explains Charles Spence [whose recent book Gastrophysics: the New Science of Eating], a professor in experimental psychology and multisensory perception at the University of Oxford.
“For a large chain that might have a million people a day coming into their restaurants around the world, it can take up to 18 months to put out a menu as we test everything on it three times,” says Gregg Rapp, a menu engineer based in Palm Springs, California
Perhaps the first thing a customer will notice about a menu when the waiter hands it to them is its weight. Heavier menus have been shown to suggest to the customer that they are in a more upscale establishment where they might expect high levels of service.
A study conducted by researchers in Switzerland found that a wine labelled with a difficult-to-read script was liked more by drinkers than the same wine carrying a simpler typeface. Spence’s own research has also found that consumers often associate rounder typefaces with sweeter tastes, while angular fonts tend to convey a salty, sour or bitter experience.
“Naming the farmer who grew the vegetables or the breed of a pig can help to add authenticity to a product,” says Spence.
A study from the University of Cologne in Germany last year showed that by cleverly naming dishes with words that mimic the mouth movements when eating, restaurants could increase the palatability of the food. They found words that move from the front to the back of the mouth were more effective – such as the made up word “bodok”.
Dan Jurafsky, a professor of computational linguistics at Stanford University, performed a study that analysed the words and prices of 650,000 dishes on 6,500 menus. He found that if longer words were used to describe a dish, it tended to cost more. For every letter longer the average word length was, the price of the dish it was describing went up by 18 cents (14p).
“When we[Rapp] do eye tracking on a customer with a menu in their hand, we typically see hotspots in the upper right hand side,” he says. “The first item on the menu is also the best real estate.”

But filling a menu with too many items can actually hamper choice, according to menu design experts. They say offering any more than seven items can overwhelm diners. To overcome this, they tell restaurants to break down their menus into sections of between five and seven dishes.

“More than seven is too many, five is optimal and three is magical,” says Rapp. There is some research to back this up – a study from Bournemouth University found that in fast food restaurants, customers wanted to pick from six items per category. In fine dining establishments, they preferred a little more choice – between seven and 10 items.

“The problem with pictures is that the brain will also taste the food a little bit when it sees a picture, so when the food comes it may not be quite as good as they imagined,” warns Rapp.
In recent years, Pizza Hut began testing eye-tracking technology to predict what diners might want as they scan through 20 different toppings before offering a likely combination to the customer.
But the article is outdated
This article was originally published on November 20, 2017, by BBC Future, and is republished here with permission.
Putting brand names into dish titles is also an effective strategy for many chain restaurants, as are nostalgic labels like “handmade” or “ye olde” according to Brian Wansink from the Food and Brand Lab at Cornell University. A dose of patriotism and family can also boost sales.
I guess we can apply some partial pooling.  If this news article reports the work of several different research groups, and Wansink’s is one of them.  Then, given other things we’ve learned about Wansink’s work, we can make some inference about the distribution of studies of this type . . .
One can also consider this from the reporting standpoint.  100% of the quotations come from people with a direct incentive to promote this work.
Really sad to see this coming from the BBC.  They’re supposed to be a legitimate news organization, no?  I can’t really fault them for citing Wansink—back then, there were still lots of people who hadn’t heard about what was up with his lab—but even in 2017 weren’t they teaching journalists to interview some non-interested parties when preparing their stories?
P.S. The most extreme bit is this quote:
More than seven is too many, five is optimal and three is magical . . .
But that just gives away the game.  Now we’re talking about magic, huh?

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