Manipulated by Restaurant Menus?

Be very careful the next time you look over a restaurant menu. Your food choices may not be your own.

Did you know that most restaurants offer no more than 7 selections in any given category (appetizers, entrees, etc)? Apparently, too many options puts us into “choice overload,” which can lead to regret at what is left behind. The result—we are less satisfied with the meal.

The number of options on a menu can influence whether we feel satisfied? 

Yikes! Are we really that malleable? Apparently. And the big chains take advantage of it. The look and layout of menus can also lower our defenses to spending (more) money, and leave us vulnerable to eating in ways we did not intend, according to Jessica Hullinger.  

Even small things, Hullinger says, like the placement of an item on the menu, or whether or not there is a dollar sign before prices will cause us to behave differently.

We need our own tactics. Businesses spend lots of money to entice us to do what they want. Yet, when it comes to eating out, we have an amazing tool. Our hunger.

If you arrive at the restaurant when you are moderately hungry, you will be less likely to succumb to menu manipulation tactics. Because your hunger “fuel gauge” is not on “E,” foods like fettuccine alfredo, or the dessert section of the menu, will have less pull. 

Unfortunately, most of us work against our hunger, trying to control it, or to ignore it. When you do that, you are susceptible to becoming overly hungry without realizing it. You will then find yourself interested in foods with lots of fuel value—the calorie dense foods—thinking you have no willpower. Thinking hunger is the problem.

Yet, if you work with hunger, it will work for you. To do that, use the HungerScale (free at, to get in touch with the nuances of your hunger.

When you arrive at the restaurant, make sure you are at a “3” on the HungerScale. The urge to eat will be moderate, but not strong. The “3” gives you breathing room. You won’t be distracted by the food, you won’t be urgently asking the waitress how long before the food comes. You’ll be more likely to pick food that is the most supportive of your goals, and to eat it until comfortably full (rather than overstuffed).

Can you recall a time when you were extremely hungry and went out to eat? What happened? Compare that to a time you were only moderately hungry. Notice a difference?

Next time you go out to eat, monitor your hunger with the HungerScale to give yourself a fighting chance against the menu marionette strings.