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Video: ‘Engineers’ entice eaters to spend more

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    >>> back at 8:47. this morning on "today's consumer," menu know-how. do you realize there's an entire field devoted to the strategic planning of restaurant menus? it's called menu engineering, and it can make you order more, and more importantly to the restaurant , spend more, almost every time you go out to eat. it's a busy night at the ballpark. many spectators and players grab a bite to eat from the stadium club.

    >> my favorite would be the burgers.

    >> reporter: and while diners think about what they're going to order, chances are, they're looking to the right side of the menu.

    >> the upper right-hand corner is the best real estate . so, that's where an eye will go. most people are right-handed, so they seem to go towards the right.

    >> reporter: so, when big league dreams ballpark in california recently revamped their menu, the high-priced items took the prime real estate spot.

    >> in the first week we saw the sales skyrocket, our higher profit items. through pictures, prescriptions, we found out we could greatly influence what our customers buy.

    >> reporter: the man behind the revamped menu board, engineer greg rath . with rath 's help, sales rose 10% at pizza and such restaurant in claremont, california, by just adding descriptions to the menu.

    >> it's important to put good descriptions on the items that you really want to sell.

    >> listen to this. "a spring mix garg zolla cheese crumbles, candy walnuts, fresh raspberries with a balsamic vinaigrette ." i mean, you have to have that.

    >> the fancier it sounds, the better it sounds.

    >> reporter: while descriptions are a must, price placement is just as important.

    >> when they put a price list, so you can find the cheapest items, it almost forces you to go to this side. we don't use dollar signs on menus because they remind people of money.

    >> reporter: and just like the menu board at the ballpark, your eye looks to the right.

    >> the before menu on this one, they have veggies in the best real estate . we went from veggies to the barbecue meat platters. * hit me with your best shot *

    >> reporter: for those who dream of the big leagues , these tricks of the trade can make all the difference.

    >> i was skeptical, and i really didn't see there was any way that we could change it to really have a great impact, but it's logical. it makes sense.

    >> menu engineer greg rath , who you just saw in that piece, is here.

    >> good to be here. thanks.

    >> for those of us trying to avoid some of the traps that you set for the menu, what are some of the things you can do if you want to make sure you're going to either eat as healthy as you can or try to save a little cash?

    >> well, healthy -- remember, years ago we'd put the little heart healthy heart on the menu. that would kill an item because people would see that and they would say, oh, this doesn't have any flavor or taste, so people wouldn't order it. we took those away these days and we want you to navigate the menu to find the items that work for your diet. we're not in the business of putting on items that will gain weight for you.

    >> you say one of the things you should do is research the menus online, which a lot of restaurants have.

    >> sure. before you go out to the restaurant , read about it see what people are saying about the restaurant . go and look at the walls. they'll have stories about --

    >> because they have stories up that have been favorable to them.

    >> sure, yeah.

    >> and you say also talk to the wait staff.

    >> the waiter or server is your key to the restaurant ordering. so, ask the server, you know, what's good, what they would order, what's going on in the restaurant . find out about the chef. who's the chef? where are they from? what would they be good at?

    >> if you want to save money, you say eat at the bar. how come?

    >> eat at the bar, sure. order an appetizer. you can go into the best restaurants in town and just order an appetizer in the bar.

    >> you say if you want to do some menu engineering at home, use family recipes.

    >> oh, sure. find your old family recipes and teach the kids about what's going on in your family and what the grandparents cooked, what your parents cooked, what your aunts, your uncles.

    >> and if you're at a resort, like say disney world or universal, there's a recipe you'd like, try to get that and make it at home.

    >> sure. all you have to do is google these things anymore and find recipes from any resort and piece it together.

    >> and if you know your kid is like miley cyrus , you can go online and find a recipe miley likes.

    >> sure, just google miley cyrus recipe, and up will pop all the recipes that she eats, and the kids are more apt to look at those foods and eat those.

    >> all right, gregg rapp, thanks so much. appreciate it.

    >>> coming up next, a special

By Laura T. Coffey
TODAY contributor
updated 2/10/2010 2:11:33 PM ET 2010-02-10T19:11:33

Eating out at restaurants can be an expensive habit or an economical one, depending on your expertise in the bargaining department. In an economy as annoyingly dismal as this one is, why spend any more money than you must?

Keep the following tips in mind the next time you’re in the mood to be wined and dined. 

1. First and foremost, get happy. Seriously, have you ever studied happy-hour menus where you live? Even if you don’t drink, it still can be worth it to do a little sleuth work and find the best happy hours in your area. Many of them offer dirt-cheap drinks and food — even at really swanky places with fabulous views. Why not go there at the right time of day and spend $5, instead of the gazillions you might spend eating dinner during the peak dinner rush? In addition to happy-hour deals, many restaurants offer special deals that aren’t listed on their menus, and it never hurts to ask about them before you place your order. You typically can find the best deals Monday through Thursday.

2. Call ahead of time to seek out discounts. Children and senior citizens often qualify for fantastic deals at restaurants. Remember to seek out special sections for children or seniors on the menu, and find out whether the restaurant offers special price deals or free meals for kids on certain nights of the week. Also, remember that many restaurants offer early-bird specials for people who show up while the night is still young, typically from 4 to 6 p.m. These menus can really come in handy and help you avoid big dinner bills when you’re vacationing as a family.

3. Check reputable coupon-code sites. Restaurant meals may not initially strike you as something that could qualify for the kinds of coupon codes you can find on the Internet, but don’t be fooled: There are deals to be had. To find a coupon code, you can simply do a quick Internet search for the name of the restaurant that interests you. That can lead to frustration sometimes, though, because you’re likely to stumble upon codes that have expired. Codes are regularly verified and updated on CurrentCodes.com and DealHunting.com. Other sites that are worth checking include include FatWallet.com, CouponChief.com, CouponMountain.com, Rather-Be-Shopping.com, RetailMeNot.com and SlickDeals.com. (When browsing by category on these sites, click on “Food” or “Food and beverage” if you can’t find a “Restaurant” category.)

Important note about coupons: Remember, this economy is hard on everyone — including your server. Even in flush times, if you use a coupon, be sure to tip your waiter or waitress based on the full bill price, not the reduced bill price.

4. Remember good, old-fashioned paper coupons, too. Carefully peruse your mail, local newspapers, the Yellow Pages and area magazines for good coupons, especially two-for-one deals. You also can buy books of restaurant coupons that are valid for one year, but be sure to flip through the book first. It won’t be worth your money if you don’t like any of the restaurants or deals offered.

5. Pretendyou’re a tourist. Another great place for finding coupons that can be truly mind-blowing is your local visitors’ bureau. Swing by and pick up publications packed with special discounts and coupons for tourists. Locals can always take advantage of these deals but often overlook them.

10 tips to be a better coupon sleuth

6. If you simply want to go out on the town, you can have a blast at one or more great restaurants without actually ordering dinner anywhere. You could order coffee or a drink and an appetizer or dessert at one or more expensive cafés or restaurants or dark, romantic bistros. This is a tried-and-true way to have a fun night out and savor the atmosphere without emptying your wallet.

7. Order water with your meal and save a bundle on beverages. It’s one of the healthiest drinks you can opt for, and you can always ask to have a twist of lemon or a slice of cucumber added for free. If you want a drink-drink, just plan to have a nightcap at home for pennies on the dollar — literally.

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8. Go out for lunch instead of dinner. The same meal can cost 50 percent less on the lunch menu than at dinnertime. If you’re on a budget but still want to go out, make a lunch date with a friend. Depending on what you order, you can bring part of your meal home and have dinner that night and/or lunch for the next day.

9. Check out the combo meals. Combination meals can cost less than several a la carte items, even at fast-food restaurants. Still, do the math first to make sure you’re truly getting a good deal.

10. Visit a new restaurant. New restaurant owners and wait staff are usually eager to provide quality service and special deals at decent prices so they can develop a base of steady customers. Get in early and be treated like royalty.


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