Wednesday, May 18, 2011
Saturday, May 14, 2011
Tuesday, May 10, 2011
Before you order your next Lasagna Classico at Olive Garden, Crunchy Rabbit at Jean Georges in Manhattan or Egg McMuffin at You-Know-Where, you might want to be aware of these seven common menu ploys.
1. First in show. Many restaurants group their offerings under the obvious headings: pasta, beef, seafood, entrees, appetizers and so on. Testing has shown that if you decide on chicken, you are more likely to order the first item on the chicken list. That's where a savvy restaurant will place its most profitable chicken dish. A really sharp chef might put a puzzler like sweetbreads first in a grouping. "They only cost about $3, so the margin is huge," says Ez. Of course, you've got to hope that enough people like sweetbreads.
2. Menu Siberia. Unprofitable dishes, like a seafood combo plate that require expensive ingredients, and lots of work, are usually banished to a corner that's less noticeable or in a multi-page menu stashed on page five.
3. Visual aids. If you draw a line around it, people will order. That's why many menus box off something they want to promote. Chicken wings are a prime example. They're "garbage," says my son of one of my favorite noshes. "They cost pennies so they're huge profit items." Photos also sell dishes. An album of what look like ten-inch-high pies set on each table at Bakers Square make it hard to resist ordering a slice. Fancy-schmancy restaurants, however, like this one in Westport, Conn., consider photos déclassé; from them the most you'll get is a sketch or two.
4. Package deals. So you stop by McDonald's for a mid-afternoon burger. When you get to the counter, however, what's really in your face are photos of Extra Value Meals. You figure, says Ez, "Hey, I could eat two patties, I could use some fries, and now I'll get a soft drink too." The single burger you intended to buy is off in menu Siberia, on the board far to the right, but you've already spent more than you intended. A small percentage of the chain's 47 million customers dropping a few extra bucks each day translates to millions in additional revenue. Another example: Olive Garden's Bottomless Pasta Bowl ($8.95). "It's very unlikely you're going to eat more than two bowls," says Ez. And, as one whiny diner noted, you're like to scarf so many free breadsticks first that you won't have room for all those noodles.
5. Dollar-sign avoidance. Focus groups who've been asked to opine on menus display an acute discomfort with dollar signs and decimals. Keeping money as abstract as possible makes spending less threatening. Many high-tone foodie establishments that charge an arm and a leg for, say, a bowl of lentils and groats now omit such crass symbols from their menus -- like Spoonriver, a place I like in Minneapolis. I almost don't notice that I've paid $12.50 for a rather small chicken quesadilla. Once upon a time, menus used leader dots (... .) to connect the entree with the price. You won't find them much anymore either.
6. The small plate-large plate conundrum. A restaurant may offer two chicken Caesar salads, one for $9 and one for $12. You may think that you're getting a break ordering the small one, but, says Ez, that's really the size they want to sell. And if a diner decides, hmmm, I may as well get the larger one because I'll never get rich saving three bucks, the restaurant will throw on some extra lettuce, making the price differential almost pure profit.
7. Ingredient embroidery. Foodie-centric restaurants practically list the recipe for each dish making each ingredient sound ultra-special. (An item is more likely to sell if it dwells on the fact that, say, the cheese came from cows at the Brunschwagergrunt Farm in western Wisconsin or that the organic mushrooms were raised by a former duchess with an advanced degree in microbiology.) Even at a humble eatery, however, a dish labeled Mom's Special Mac and Cheese or "The BeeBop Bar's Mac and Four Cheese casserole" sells better than just plain old mac and cheese. "It may not be any more special than what you get somewhere else, but you'll start to think you can only get it there," says Ez. And that will keep you coming back again and again.
You won't find these gambits at every eatery. Not all restaurant owners plan their menus as carefully as they should. If they did, contends my kid, maybe they would stop placing entrées in the middle of the right hand page, prime menu real estate, because "most people who go to a restaurant are going to order an entrée anyway." he says. "That's where I'd put desserts."
Food for thought!
Tuesday, May 3, 2011
Police in Taiwan recently used handheld spectrum analyzers to catch at least three people suspected of cheating on an exam by monitoring for mobile phone signals. Officers monitored an exam in south Taiwan for prospective government workers, said senior company engineer Lai Cheng-heng. The devices checked for signals from pagers or mobile phones near the test site. Those sitting for the exam are supposed to shut off their mobile phones to stop test answers from reaching them via calls, text messages or vibrations.
Spectrum analyzers cannot conclusively identify specific phone users, he said, but they can narrow down the area from which a call was made. Such data is useful in conjunction with other evidence of cheating. An officer who followed up the exam for a range of government jobs said he was unsure how many people would be formally accused of cheating. But he said the "effectiveness" of the analyzers was "very high."http://www.techworld.com.au/article/373172/spectrum_analyzer_catches_exam_cheats_taiwan/?fp=2&fpid=1&rid=1