how restaurants design their menus

After perusing some interesting articles on how menus are designed to influence consumers to buy certain items, I have decided to write a short post summing up the tricks that I found to be most interesting.

  • Photos of dishes are useful, but some restaurants don’t use them or opt for illustrations instead because of associations between photos and common chains like Applebee’s.
  • Ridiculously expensive item’s are added to some menus to make everything else seem reasonable in comparison. For example, Balthazar Restaurant, the menu of which is dissected in a New York Magazine article, offers two seafood platters; a $115 decoy platter, and a second bargain platter–priced at $70. The amount of food in either platter is not specified, demonstrating how this clever ploy can make an item that lacks description and has an ordinarily preposterous price attached to it seem like an acceptable meal to purchase.
  • Sometimes a meal is offered in different sizes, but neither size is specified. This tactic can make people more likely to order the larger size when the smaller meal is sufficient, or make an expensive small meal seem reasonably priced.
  • Centered formatting makes sure customers don’t just look down at all the prices in a row and choose their preferred price. Also, it is smart to not use leader dots, dollar signs, or cents (If cents are used, it is smarter to use .50 or .95 than .99.). By neglecting signs associated with money, customers will be less focused on price.
  • According to the Wired article “The Hidden Psychology of Menu Design, “The eyes are drawn to boxes, and diners are statistically more likely to order whatever is inside them. Restaurants reserve them for profitable items or dishes the chef wants to promote.”
  • Dinners “for two” sometimes list the per person price because people often forget that it is really twice as much.
  • The Wired article also states that, “People are more likely to order something with a description than without it. Though overused, ‘caramelised’ has mesmeric power. Menu consultants often recommend unfamiliar terms: not sure what a ‘passion fruit tuile’ is? Why not order it to find out…”
  • If a dish has an ethnic name, people will think it is more authentic.
  • In the Guardian article “Restaurant Menu Psychology: Tricks to Make Us Order More,” Amy Fleming writes,

“Research has shown that classical music increases sales of expensive wines and overall spending in posh eateries, while French and German music increases sales of French and German wines, respectively (the diners are unaware of these influences). Slow music, and the scent of lavender, makes people spend longer in restaurants and pop music at 70-90dB will up the consumption of soft drinks.”

Click here, here, here, and here to view the four articles I used to find this information. Many more interesting menu tricks are found in them than are in this short list.


genericized trademarks

Company or product names lose their trademarks when they start being commonly used as a generic term instead of a specific one that refers to only a specific company or product. Some people refer to this event as “genericide.” The Harvard webpage “Overview of Trademark Law” explains:

Sometimes, trademarks that are originally distinctive can become generic over time, thereby losing its trademark protection. A word will be considered generic when, in the minds of a substantial majority of the public, the word denotes a broad genus or type of product and not a specific source or manufacturer. So, for example, the term ‘thermos’ has become a generic term and is no longer entitled to trademark protection. Although it once denoted a specific manufacturer, the term now stands for the general type of product. Similarly, both ‘aspirin’ and ‘cellophane’ have been held to be generic. In deciding whether a term is generic, courts will often look to dictionary definitions, the use of the term in newspapers and magazines, and any evidence of attempts by the trademark owner to police its mark.

Other trademarks that have been lost due to having become too generic include escalator, body soap, brassiere, cola, dry ice, Easter basket, light beer, pocket book, super glue, thermos, trampoline, yo-yo, Pilates, and many, many more. Companies at risk of losing their trademark for this reason will take action to prevent their trademarks from becoming too generic. For example, according to BBC News, “Companies like Xerox, Kleenex, Portakabin and Rollerblade have teams of lawyers furiously firing off letters to media which mistakenly use their name in a generic sense.” Companies will also try to escape genericide by advertising that the name of their product is a specific brand. In Trademark Law: Protection, Enforcement, and Licensing, Adam L. Brookman writes:

Xerox, Band-Aid, Dictaphone, Scotch, Jell-O, and Kleenex, when advertised by their owners, are almost always followed by the word ‘brand’ and the real generic name of the product–for example, Xerox brand photocopy machines, Band-Aid brand sheer strips, Dictaphone brand dictating machines, Scotch brand transparent tape, Jell-O brand gelatin, and Kleenex brand tissues. All this careful advertising, of course, hasn’t stopped some people from continuing to ask for a Kleenex when they want a tissue or seeking a Band-Aid to cover a cut (2-16).

If you want to learn more about genericized trademarks I recommend the following sources: Lee Wilson’s The Trademark Guide: A Friendly Guide to Protecting and Profiting from Trademarks (The chapter “Trademark Usage” contains a nice list of trademarks that have been lost due to genericide.), Stephen Pericles Lada’s Patents, Trademarks, and Related Rights (Chapter 30 has a section on genercized trademarks, but it’s so specific and in-depth, I didn’t even bother reading it.), and last but certainly not least, the Wikipedia’s pages on genericized trademarks and list of genericized trademarks.

happy birthday is copyrighted

Yes, you read that correctly. “Happy Birthday to You,” that ditty you’ve known for as long as you can remember and still hear numerous times each year, is copyrighted. The melody of the song, which is the most performed song in the world, was written by Mildred and Patty Smith in the 1893. They wrote it for another song with the title “Good Morning to All,” and neither of them are thought to have written the lyrics to “Happy Birthday to You.”

Warner/Chappell, a subsidiary of Time Warner, claims it owns the copyright to “Happy Birthday to You,” and makes an estimated $2 million dollars a year off the song. According to the New York Times article “‘Happy Birthday’ and the Money It Makes,” in 1989, the year Warner/Chappell purchased the song, it was featured in at least 50 films, T.V. shows, and commercials. However, there is debate as to whether the song is actually still under copyright. George Washington University Law School professor Robert Brauneis expresses doubt that “Happy Birthday to You” is still copyrighted in the article “Copyright and the World’s Most Popular Song.” Brauneis gives three main reasons why the song is not under copyright anymore: First, its copyright may have never been renewed, since the only filed renewals were for piano accompaniments and unusual additional lyrics. Secondly, the first publication of the song was not in the name of the correct copyright holder, which would have resulted in the song losing copyright at the time. Thirdly, it is unlikely that Mildred or Patty Smith wrote the lyrics to “Happy Birthday to You,” and in order to claim itself as the copyright holder, Warner/Chappell must be able to trace ownership to the original authors(s) (3).

There is currently a lawsuit against Warner/Chappell. The lawsuit, which was filed by a filmmaker wanting to use the song in a documentary about it, aims to have the court acknowledge that “Happy Birthday to You” is in the public domain. Click here to read a New York Times article about the conflict.

five documentaries streaming on netflix that are actually good

If you’re ever in the mood for some enjoyable, yet intellectually-stimulating entertainment, I recommend taking a look at any of the following five documentaries, all of which can be streamed on Netflix. Also, if you think watching documentaries is a tiresome activity, these films will likely convert you.

banksy’s exit through the gift shop

Before I watched this film, I remember skimming its plot summary on Wikipedia and being greatly confused as to what it was actually about. Simply put, Exit Through The Gift Shop is a film so genius and unconventional that I feel that a brief summary will not be able to encompass the gist of the film, but I’ll try anyway. Thierry Guetta, a French emigrant residing in Los Angeles, videotapes everything he can and starts videotaping street artists at work after being introduced to street art by his cousin, an artist known as Space Invader. He starts filming artists like Shepard Fairey and eventually meets the renowned graffiti artist who goes by the name of Banksy. He constantly films Banksy’s work, which he claims is part of a documentary he is making. Although Guetta didn’t initially plan to make the film, he attempts to do so after Bansky tells him to. The outcome of Guetta’s project is horrendous, and Banksy takes over the daunting task of completing the movie. During this time, Guetta reinvents himself as the artist Mr. Brainwash, and holds an extremely successful art exhibition. The film is very informative about the world of street art and also explores ideas about what makes art great and what it takes to be a successful artist. The film does not try to push a certain perspective on the viewer, but instead lets him or her make up their own mind as to what the message of the film is. Toward the documentary’s end, Banksy, whose face is not shown and speaks with a distorted voice explains:

I don’t know what it means; Thierry’s huge success and arrival in the art world. I mean, maybe Thierry was a genius all along. Maybe he got a bit lucky. Maybe it means art is a bit of a joke…I don’t think Thierry played by the rules, in some ways. But then, there aren’t supposed to be any rules, so I don’t really know what the moral is. I mean, I always used to encourage everyone I met to make art. I used to think everyone should do it. I don’t really do that so much anymore.

Click here to view the trailer, which is hilarious and one of the best trailers I’ve ever seen.

the imposter

theimposterNicholas Barclay, a Texan boy who went missing at age 13, was found in Spain three and a half years later. His family took him into their home and believed with certainty that he was who he said he was. However, the boy, or rather man, who claimed to be Nicholas was actually Frédéric Bourdin, a 23 year old man from France who did not actually look very much like Nicholas and spoke with an accent. How did Bourdin, who was found to be an imposter by a private investigator, successfully deceive the American Embassy, the FBI, and Nicholas’ family? You’ll just have to watch the film, which includes interviews with Bourdin and Nicholas’ relatives, to learn more. Click here to watch the trailer.

the thin blue line

thinbluelineThe Thin Blue Line is “the first movie mystery to actually solve a murder.” The film led to the release of Randall Adams, a man who had been sentenced to life in prison and previously sentenced to death for the murder of a police officer. Director Errol Morris’ research points to the conclusion that the real murderer was David Harris, who committed many crimes after the murder including another murder. One of the main causes of Adams’ conviction was that three witnesses committed perjury. The documentary’s style of using reenactments and interviews was very innovative for the time. Click here and here to read more about the film and murder case.

hoop dreams

Hoop_DreamsRoger Ebert considered Hoop Dreams to be the best film of the 1990s. For six years, the film follows two inner-city boys, William Gates and Arthur Agee, who both have ambitions to play professional basketball. The boys and their families experience many unexpected twists and turns in their journey, most of them being for the worse. For example, Arthur gets a scholarship to a private school and is then loses it, resulting in his family having to pay a debt in order for him to receive his transcripts; William struggles with injuries throughout the film; and Arthur’s mother deals with losing a job, her husband leaving the family and then returning, and chronic back pain. In addition, both boys try to get college scholarships. The many themes the film explores include family, poverty, and race. In his excellent review of the film, Robert Ebert writes:

No screenwriter would dare write this story; it is drama and melodrama, packaged with outrage and moments that make you want to cry. “Hoop Dreams” (1994) has the form of a sports documentary, but along the way it becomes a revealing and heartbreaking story about life in America. When the filmmakers began, they planned to make a 30-minute film about eighth-graders being recruited from inner-city playgrounds to play for suburban schools. Their film eventually encompassed six years, involved 250 hours of footage, and found a reversal of fortunes they could not possibly have anticipated.


kumareKumare is “the true story of a false prophet.” Vikram Gandhi, a first-generation American, was frustrated with people posing as spiritual leaders and wanted to understand why these fake gurus were becoming popular in the West. To answer this question, he reinvented himself as the guru Sri Kumare. To make himself look like a guru he grew out his hair, made up fake yoga poses and chants, spoke in an accent, and dressed in simple clothing. Gandhi’s results are very impressive–he gains many dedicated followers who greatly value his made-up teachings. Throughout the film, his followers, who often are seeking Kumare’s help to deal with personal problems, seem to actually benefit from the false prophet’s guidance. At the end of the film, Gandhi reveals to his followers that he had been deceiving them, and their reactions may surprise you. Click here to read an article on the film and here to view the film’s trailer.

fun with google patent search

A shirt with Dwight’s invention on it that I found on Amazon.

I recently discovered Google Patent Search. Essentially, if you have a stroke of genius and come up with a million-dollar idea, Google Patent Search lets you quickly and easily make sure someone else didn’t already patent it. However, you’ll more likely be using it to search for all the crazy, outside-the-box inventions people have dreamed up that haven’t yet been featured on Shark Tank. Finding wacky ideas on Patent Search is surprisingly quite easy. Chances are, if you can think of a bizarre invention, someone else has already thought of the same invention and patented it. Case in point: Remember that episode of The Office where Michael and Dwight compare their ideas for inventions to see whose are superior? The “toilet sponge,” which was claimed to be “more absorbent and softer than toilet paper,” was Michael’s very own idea—or so he thought! Actually, an almost identical invention had already been patented in 2004. The invention, simply referred to as a sponge device, is “usable as a moisturized sponge at home, to replace existing toilet paper…” Dwight had come up with the “horse boat,” a canoe that wraps around a horse so you can go directly from land to sea travel without changing means of transportation. Unfortunately, no invention like this is patented, although I found something possibly even stranger when I typed “horse boat” into the Google search bar; a man-powered boat in the shape of a horse that was patented in 1930.

The man-powered horse boat.

The invention aims to provide a novel means whereby a person may propel a boat without resorting to complicated machinery…there is…a form of the invention wherein the possibilities of the structure, as an amusement device, are accentuated. The hull is shaped like the body of a horse, and is provided, fore and aft, with air-tight compartments, between which the cockpit is located.


The sound shoe studio.

Possibly my favorite invention I’ve found so far, for the sole reason that it’s so bad that it’s good, is the sound shoe studio. At first, I thought it would be a shoe that makes sound when it moves in certain ways. For example, stomping might create a loud cymbal crash, tapping your feet would produce a drum beat, etc. However, the actual invention is even worse. Various percussion instruments can be attached to the shoe and played through foot tapping. The shoe is “able to mix sound generated by the shoe with other musical sounds and record them at the same time. This shoe allows for adjusting, amplifying and controlling of the music and audio generated within the shoe.” It even performs “equalization, reverbation, and editing of the waveforms and MIDI sounds”! Whatever that means. Basically, this invention lets you play simple percussion instruments with your feet and record yourself doing it. After all, recording yourself on a computer while playing percussion instruments with your hands would be far too complicated. I suppose it could be used for extreme percussionists who already have their hands full with other instruments or bands that don’t have a percussionist so somebody decides to multitask, but that’s a ridiculously limited audience for such an intricate device that would likely be difficult to manufacture.  The only somewhat cool feature of this complex shoe instrument is that it has a built-in radio, which could be used while running. Even so, playing music via shoe speakers is essentially just an obnoxious alternative to listening to music with headphones as you jog. I checked to see if the sound shoe studio, which was patented in 2012, was actually available to purchase. Not surprisingly, it isn’t.


The method and apparatus for molded ice sculpture.

Finally, although it may be shocking given the above examples, Google Patent Search is actually capable of helping you find some inventions people might actually want to use. Take the “method and apparatus for molded ice sculpture,” a creative invention with a less than creative name, for example. This “inexpensive and easily utilized apparatus” is filled with water and placed in a freezer, where it produces an ice sculpture, like the swan in the image on the side. You could make your very own flock of ice swans. You could even use Kool-Aid to make each swan a different color. This invention may be far from practical, but it sure is awesome.

So go ahead, do some of your own crazy-idea-searching on Google Patent Search. I’d love to know if you find something good!

Update: I’ve already found some more interesting inventions! Here are two different versions of a shoe with springs at the bottom to improve your jumping ability.