Think back to the last time you ate at a fancy restaurant and try to remember the exact dialogue you had with your server. When you sat down you were probably asked rather quickly if you'd like a cocktail, and if you'd prefer still or sparkling water. Then you were told the specials for the evening, placed your order, ate, got your check, paid and left. But during that seemingly innocuous meal, odds are that several different attempts were made to get you to spend more money.
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Restaurants bilk unsuspecting customers out of their hard-earned cash nearly every time they sit down to eat and they use some tried-and-true approaches. One major technique is subtle intimidation: "Are you sure you don't want to order a side dish? The macaroni and cheese is to die for." They also play on our embarrassment; for example, they'll do everything they can to prevent you from ordering the cheapest bottle of wine on the menu.
Restaurants rake in the dough from wine sales, and have some sneaky ways to get you to spend more money on wine than you planned. Many diners are too embarrassed to order the least expensive bottle on the list, so they’ll opt for the second-least expensive. Restaurants know this, so they tend to place the biggest markup on that very bottle (meaning that its wholesale price very well might be less than the least-expensive bottle). Also, they’ll guide you toward a more expensive bottle under the pretense that it will work better with the food you ordered.
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Once you’ve placed your wine order, pay close attention. They might bring out a bottle of the same wine you ordered but from a different, less expensive vintage, hoping you won’t notice that you paid for a more expensive bottle but didn’t receive it. Or, they may lie and tell you that they’re all out of the bottle you ordered but would be more than happy to offer you a similar bottle… one that happens to be a lot more expensive. Finally, they’ll top up your glass every time they pass by, forcing you to burn through it quicker than planned. And if you’ve already finished your bottle by the time the entrees show up, then you’ll just need to order a second, then, won’t you?
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The fact that restaurants design their menus with a goal of ripping off their customers is no secret: the National Restaurant Association even provides some sneaky tips on how best to do it right on their website:
“Menu design draws some inspiration from newspaper layout, which puts the most important articles at the top right of the front page. Some restaurants will place their most profitable items or specials in that spot. Elsewhere in the menu, items you want to sell the most should be shown in first and last position. These are typically your biggest sellers, so put careful thought into which items provide your greatest return. Another “power position” is the inside right page above the center.”
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Ah, the art of the upsell. It’s a subtle way to get you to spend more money under the guise of being helpful. And the power of suggestion is a forceful one: By merely directing you to take another look at the appetizers and side dishes, there’s a good chance that one might catch your eye and you’ll be okay with dropping an additional 10 bucks. Many people also subconsciously aim to please, so it’s easier to just say yes to a side dish instead of turning the offer down. It sounds strange, but pay attention the next time a server tries to upsell you: you’ll find that you subconsciously want to say yes to everything.
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The vast majority of restaurants still let you decide for yourself how much tip you want to leave, but others, especially if there’s a large party, will automatically add at least 18 percent to the bill and not tell you about it. Some checks will leave a space for “Additional Gratuity” but most will look just like any old bill, save for that additional line item. And before you know it, you’ve just left a 38 percent tip. Any time you receive your check, always make sure that the tip hasn’t already been included, because it’s something you’re going to begin to see a lot more of.
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But the rip-off game goes even further than that. Next time you're dining out, pay close attention to the way the server treats you. Odds are they'll be chummy, like an old friend, trying to help you navigate your way through the menu and order the best food you can. But don't be fooled: you're just a paying customer. Their #1 job is to get you to rack up the largest bill possible so their tip will be higher. If that means being phony and underhanded, so be it.
At the end of the day, dining out is all theatre. 'Backstage' in the kitchen, the staff is shouting, harried, and oftentimes pulling their hair out because a diner order a steak well-done and then sent it back for being overcooked. But once they step onstage in the main dining room, everything is serene and peaceful, and "We're so sorry about that, we'll have the chef prepare another for you right away." Because the more relaxed a customer is, the more money they'll be cool with spending.. Read on to learn 10 ways that restaurants try to get you to spend more money.
-Dan Myers, The Daily Meal
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