Return to all posts
How can restaurants influence dining experiences?

How can restaurants influence dining experiences?

Written by

Abbie Dawson


August 25, 2022


Behavioural science

What techniques can be used to affect your foodies? It's (not) tricky, tricky, tricky...

When we go out for a meal, we all like to think we’re in control of what we order, how long we stay, and how much of a tip we leave. But the truth is, there are opportunities to be influenced from the moment we step into a restaurant

Our Behavioural Science brainiac, James Picken, has collated a few proven tips and tricks you can use to encourage your customers to spend more, choose profitable menu items, and leave feeling deeply satisfied. 

1. Invite customers to the bar to wait

As soon as your customers walk through the door, their decisions may be being influenced. This leans into a concept called ‘The Primary Effect’ - the idea that the order in which we receive information affects how the information is interpreted. Put simply, first impressions are hugely important.

Whether the table is ready or not, it’s a good idea to invite them to grab a drink at the bar while they wait. 

This tactic allows you to give something to the customer that they’ll enjoy within minutes, lifting their mood and distracting them from any waits. It can also add high-profit margin items to their bill before they’ve even sat down to order - even better!

2. Give customers a heavy menu

It’s true - the weight of the menu you hand to your customers can impact their dining experience. Who’d have thought?

That’s because heavy menus are usually associated with better service, and therefore customers will be more likely to perceive the experience as higher quality, leading them to tip more and recommend your business to others. 

This trick also works for heavy cutlery, glasses and plates. One study found that people associate heavier tableware with being more expensive, meaning we also view the meals eaten off them as more luxurious and enjoyable. 

3. Carefully curate your background playlist

Music is often used as a contextual cue to influence the speed at which customers eat their meals - and hence, how long they stay and how much they spend.

Depending on the time of day, you may want to play up-beat, fast-paced tunes to encourage customers to eat more quickly - particularly useful during busy lunch periods when spend per table is lower. This might be different to the slower-paced tunes during your evening service, which can be used to encourage your customers to settle in for the night and order a dessert or another glass of wine. 

The effects of this link to the Behavioural Science concept of Priming; the idea that our behaviour can be tweaked by subtle exposure to words, smells, sounds and sights that we are not consciously aware of and cannot later recall. Your customers will enjoy your soundtrack without even being aware that their behaviour is being influenced by it, so it’s a powerful tip to use. 

Want us to help? Get in touch.

4. Use decoy pricing

How much thought have you put into your pricing? 

The expensive dishes on your menu can be used to make the rest of your choices look better value by comparison. This is called “Anchor” pricing. If you’re able to place pricey items next to slightly less pricey ones, the latter looks like a good deal.

It might also be worth putting less profitable dishes at the bottom of your menus, where they’re less likely to be noticed and ordered. 

5. Turn up the bass

Research has shown that playing songs with a heavy bass makes us feel dominant, powerful and in control. It’s also been proven that listening to bass at the same time is associated with the release of adrenaline in the blood - something to consider if you’re wanting to provide that extra boost of energy to your environments. 

6. Remove £ signs from your menu

Monetary symbols are powerful visual triggers that remind customers they’re about to lose something they value, prompting their instincts to spend less. One study found that guests given numeral-only menus spent significantly more than those who received a menu with prices showing a dollar sign, or those whose menus had prices written out in words. 

By removing the pound or dollar signs on your menus, you could harness these findings and may see an increase in customer spend from this tiny (costless) change alone.

7. Dim the lights

Lighting is something you can adjust throughout the day to create different vibes,  And it’s even been proven to influence menu choices too.

According to a study, diners are 16-24% more likely to order healthy food (and less of it) in well-lit restaurants, because bright lights heighten the sense and emotions. But once the lights go down (usually early evening) the ambience becomes more relaxed - and so do customers’ food and drink choices. This is a great thing to test in your restaurant against your objectives, whether that’s keeping guests in for longer or encouraging a faster turnover to serve more people per hour.

Music to make them eat slow, eat fast, eat dessert, eat to the beat, eat sleep rave repeat.

Imagine a busy restaurant where the atmosphere is monitored automatically, measuring noise levels and magically adjusting music, displays and lighting responsively, whilst the staff keep doing what they do best. Plate up and pump up the volume.

Why not download for free (and with very little effort) our hospitality brochure? There is one for pubs and restaurants, as well as hotels and cafes.

And if you think we can help, we’d love to hear from you. Call us on +44 (0)203 397 7676 or drop us an email at

How can restaurants influence dining experiences?

Abbie Dawson

Marketing Manager at Startle. I'm in charge of our marketing activity, making sure to spread the word of Startle to as many brands as possible. When I'm not working, you'll find me vinyl shopping to add to my collection or working out at the gym (usually making enemies with a punching bag).

Say hello on LinkedIn

Hey, we've just met you and this is crazy. But here's our number +44 (0)203 397 7676. So, call us maybe?

  • Number of locations *
  • Number of locations *