Menu Layouts Affect Choices Made By Diners
In a Q&A with the World Resources Institute, Linda Bacon (London School of Economics) discussed her Masters in Behavioural Science research. Bacon wanted to find out if the way restaurants organize their menus had any influence on consumer choice of plant-based dishes. Early results suggest that when vegetarian dishes are incorporated into the menu rather than being separated into a “vegetarian” section, consumers are more likely to choose those dishes.
As part of the study, multiple versions of the same menu were tested. Only 5.9% of diners who received a menu that had the plant-based dishes in a separate vegetarian section chose these items. When the exact same items were incorporated into the menu in a single list with other options, diners were 56% more likely to select them.
Researchers speculate that there are a number of factors contributing to this difference. Separating the vegetarian dishes into their own section may cause consumers to ignore them. Since the dishes lack fish or meat, it’s possible that consumers think they’re meant to be eaten by a specific group of people that they might not identify with.
A menu with a separate vegetarian section could also bring to mind negative associations with vegetarian food—that it isn’t as tasty and nutritious or that it is less masculine, which may also cause diners to overlook these dishes. Other menu factors like using descriptive language may affect consumer choice of plant-based dishes. More research and field testing in these areas is needed.
Findings from the study could result in some very real impacts. If restaurants that currently have vegetarian options were to incorporate these items into the entire menu rather than including them in a separate section, it may result in more consumers making healthier and more humane choices, and could also be a cost-effective way of driving demand. Restaurant managers would also likely see an increase in the ordering of these items, making the value of keeping them on the menu a more obvious and practical business decision.