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A restaurant menu—no big deal, right? It’s just a list of the food items that a restaurant offers its customers. Sure it is. Plus a whole lot more.

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Before menus ever make it to the printer, restaurant owners hire menu engineers and consultants to bury super sneaky psychological tricks into the pretty pictures and mouth-watering descriptions for one reason only—to get you to spend more money. 

Want to beat restaurants at their own game? Here’s your cheat sheet listing the sneakiest of sneaky tricks.

Dollar signs

Sophisticated research tells restaurants to stop including dollars signs on their menus because a dollar sign—or even the word “dollar” spelled out instead—triggers negative feelings associated with paying. Both the sign and the word remind customers that they’re spending money. (Well, imagine that!)

Number choices

Menu designers work under a strict list of rules, one of which has to do with the number 9. Consumers have been taught to believe that prices that end with 9, such as $7.99, offer value but not necessarily quality. And get this, prices that end in .95 instead of .99 are more effective, meaning subconsciously, customers are more likely to choose them because the way the price appears to be friendlier.

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If the high cost of restaurant meals is eating up your cash, here are some great ways to keep your tab lean!

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DISCOUNTS. Many restaurants offer a reduced-price menu for seniors and children. If you or someone in your party qualifies be sure to inquire if this doesn’t show up on the regular menu. Typically these discounted menus offer smaller portions at significantly reduced prices.

SKIP THE SODAS. Skip the pricey drinks and dubious “free refills” altogether and you’ll save at least $2 a person. Lisa B. rewards herself whenever she opts for water by stuffing two bucks into her savings account.

SHARE. Splitting a meal these days is socially acceptable and economically savvy. While some restaurants charge a minimal charge for splitting, most are very accommodating. Even if you have to pay a buck or two to split, it’s still better than paying for two meals you cannot eat completely. If you’re embarrassed about sharing, don’t be. If you must explain, say you are a light eater or that you’re doing your duty to the earth by not over-consuming. Many restaurants are so accommodating they’ll split the meal in the kitchen rather than handing you an extra plate.

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