No dollar sign, bigger check: menu psychology

Something to keep in mind before you order: restaurant patrons spent more money when menus listed prices without currency symbols, according to a study by the Cornell University School of Hospitality Research (via Consumerist).

The researchers tested how much visitors to the Culinary Institute of America's St. Andrew's restaurant in Hyde Park, N.Y. spent when menus listed prices in Arabic numerals with dollar signs, numerals without dollar signs and when the numbers were written out as words ($20 or 20 versus twenty).

They expected people would spend more when prices were listed as words, but discovered it was the currency-free label that led to customers running up the check. The researchers surmised that removing the dollar sign helped disassociate the numbers from an actual price --- discouraging them from actually doing the arithmetic in their head.

A brief survey of Baltimore restaurants shows mixed use of these symbols:


The Charleston does use dollar signs on the menus posted online, but the prices are only listed in a few places since patrons chose a selection of three or more dishes. Petit Louis Bistro omits the currency symbol next to individual items but does use them in some places.

The Black Olive does not use dollar signs on its menu, but does include decimal points. The Brass Elephant has dollar signs online.

Have you noticed any restaurants dropping off the dollar sign? UPDATED: Check out this post with more details about how restaurants lure customers into racking up the check.

(photo: Lloyd Fox/Baltimore Sun)

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