But with so many choices to be made, what are the best ways to choose the right dish, the best drink and the correct amount to tip waiting staff? Study of behaviour – particularly the tricks and traps associated with framing and reciprocity – can help.
The power of free
A restaurant might offer free coffee with every meal. Perhaps free dining for children. The power of the word free is widely regarded to be very strong. Among the five tips for avoiding getting caught out when dining out, we suggest taking a moment to consider if “free” offers sway your choice too much. Take note of how wines are listed in the drinks menu and question if currency symbols are not printed. Be a happy, savvy restaurant goer – and don’t be fooled.
Try something different
The economics of dining out feature in Tyler Cowen’s An Economist Gets Lunch. One of Cowan’s top tips is to try “something different” if it’s on the menu. If a dish is unusual, it could well be a speciality of the house rather than being offered as an expected staple of the style of cuisine.2
A glass of red with your meal? Watch out for particularly expensive bottles in the wine list. Such inclusions, particularly when listed at the top of the menu, can serve to make other tipples look comparatively inexpensive, as explained by UXmatters. Known as the anchoring effect, it can be used on food menus too.3
Dollars and sense
Another menu trick that may encourage spending is leaving out the currency signs next to prices. Research cited in a LearnVest article explains that printing 25 rather than $25 tends to reduce diners’ focus on cost.4
Tips are important to waiting staff, so it’s no surprise many try to maximise gratuities. A blogpost by our eZonomics economist explains several of the tactics. Among the steps diners on a budget can take is not drinking too much – not only is alcohol often expensive, studies suggest it encourages tipping too.5
Offers of “free” are used to entice customers – kids go free, free champagne, free coffee refills and more. Although it may seem like a bargain, this is not always the case. As behavioural economist Dan Ariely blogs, the offer of something free can be so appealing we overlook other, more important factors in our attempts to claim the deal.