TIME Diet/Nutrition

Decoding Menus Can Help You Slim Down

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Menu design can affect your dietary habits

Diners beware—the items in flashy fonts and bolded lettering are not always the best choice for your health. A new study released this month shows that the dishes we order at restaurants have less to do with our preferences and more to do with a menu’s description and design.

The Cornell study—published in the International Journal of Hospitality Management—examined 217 menus and the meal choices of 300 diners. Two factors impact our decisions, say the researchers: how food is presented on the menu and how we imagine our food will taste.

Tantalizing descriptions and highlighted fonts pull diners into certain items on a menu. “In most cases, these are the least healthy items on the menu,” said Brian Wansink in a statement, the study’s lead author and author of Slim by Design: Mindless Eating Solutions for Everyday Life.

Wansink and his co-author Katie Love altered the names of some menu items, changing things like “seafood filet” to “Succulent Italian Seafood Filet” and “red beans and rice” to “Cajun Red Beans and Rice.” And when they did? Sales of these menu items increased by 28%. On average, diners were willing to pay 12% more for foods with descriptive, enticing names.

Wansink says the secret to healthy dining is talking to your server. “Ask ‘What are your two or three lighter entrées that get the most compliments?’ or ‘What’s the best thing on the menu if a person wants a light dinner?’”

If you are not cooking at home, decoding the restaurant menu may be the ticket to not spoiling your diet when you dine out.

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