Restaurant Hacks: How They Trick Us To Spend More, And How To Avoid It

Fast food restaurants have been using sneaky marketing strategies to encourage consumers to spend their hard-earned cash, check out how they’re doing it.

Using oversized pictures of food

One way that fast-food chains make sure their customers are well captivated is by using largely oversized pictures of the food.

There’s just something about seeing the food right in front of you that makes it so hard to resist.

Having those oversized food pictures have shown to light up parts of the brain that stimulate your desire to have that food. It’s enticing and hard to resist. It also makes it one of the first things you notice when you walk into the restaurant, and by that point, most people are already scanning the menu for their next meal.

Having prices in a small size

So, while these restaurants are emphasizing their food pictures, making the consumer hungry just by some clever visual stimulation, they’re drawing the attention away from the price.

Of course, we all believe that fast food prices are lower than heading on over to a proper restaurant.

By placing a price next to the picture in a much smaller font, it makes sure people pay far less attention to how much it is. Of course, in some ways, it brings a shock when people come to pay, and by that point, it’s too late. How many of us actually pay close attention to fast food prices?

Using bold colors

If you were to compare a regular menu from a non-fast-food restaurant to a fast-food chain’s, you would notice a stark difference.

Fast food restaurants make sure they use bold colors, without worrying whether it looks stylish since it’s there to stand out.

Specifically, yellow and red have been known to create a feeling in people akin to happiness and desire. The red encourages people to be drawn to the restaurant and hungry, while the yellow has positive associations. These are all hard to resist when faced with a quick decision, and once you see the large pictures, there’s no going back.

Ditching the dollar sign

Strangely enough, ditching the dollar sign is a way of making people feel more comfortable when it comes to reaching inside their wallets.

According to studies, the dollar sign is associated with spending money, and many people have guarded against this.

By removing the dollar sign, the restaurants are removing yet another barrier between your mind and purchasing food. By removing the dollar sign, it’s removing an association of cost. Instead, it’ll simply be the numbers such as 9.89; that way you’re only thinking about their delicious food. Now, if those numbers are small against the picture, then you’re really in trouble.

Using prices with decimals (9.79 or 9.89)

It seems no one likes round numbers. By somehow adding a decimal, for example, 9.79 or 9.89, it makes us feel as if we’re somehow spending less since it’s under the next round number.

When you really think about it, you’re still paying around $10, but because it’s several pence down, it feels like a lot less.

It doesn’t seem to matter how much we try, it makes us feel as if those extra pence is saving us money, even though we’re actually spending a lot more than we realize. Don’t be fooled by the decimal, it’s not your friend.

Hide the dollar menu

There is always a budget option, most places tend to have some kind of dollar menu or savers menu.

However, these menus tend to be kept out of the way, while the main features of the menus are the promotional meals.

Of course, if we’re really trying to save, or just fancy it, then many people do still purchase from the savers’ menu. However, if you’re having a casual browse, then it’s not going to stand out nearly as much as the rest of the menu. After all, they want to encourage people to spend money, so the more expensive menu will always take precedence.

Confusing, messy menu layouts

They are not all neatly laid out like a proper restaurant menu would be; instead, it’s messy and hard to read.

This has been done on purpose and is a deliberate trick to get people to come closer to the counter.

By getting people closer to the counter, it puts people on the spot so that they feel as if they have to order something quickly. This often leads to people giving in to their impulse buys rather than giving it a good, calculated thought. It’s really quite underhanded when you give it some thought, but if it earns money, they’ll do anything.

Bringing in those combo shortcuts

While everyone is pretty capable of listing out what it is they want to order, fast food is about simplicity, and the simpler it is, the more money they make.

By turning a meal into a number, it cuts out a whole lot of deliberation and makes the process much faster.

Once you’re awkwardly stood at the counter, all it takes is a glance, and you know you want a number ‘3’. It also disassociates how much you’re ordering, and may even make you feel compelled to order extras, it’s so quick, so why wouldn’t you want to add a cookie or an ice cream to your meal?

Combo savings

The combos really are genius. Not only are they designed to make you look at them above everything else, as well as being one of the simplest things to order, they also have another secret strategy.

Most people believe that they are getting value for money by choosing to have a combo.

However, most of the time, you are actually not making a saving at all; if there is one, it’ll be meager and of no real significant value. Most people believe that the more you purchase, the more you save, which doesn’t really work when it comes to fast food.

Get you to buy a drink

There’s one thing you never seem to forget when it comes to having a quick meal, and that’s the essential drink that comes with it.

If you think about it, even if you grab something from the saver menu, you’re still going to feel compelled to buy a drink.

Once you have, you’ve turned a dollar meal into three, and once you’ve done that, anything is possible. Drinks have a more significant profit margin than most of the food, so they make sure that it’s almost impossible to resist. Even the bottled water costs way more than it should, and asking for tap water doesn’t seem right.

Outrageous marketing

While all of that might already seem like a lot, it doesn’t end there. Fast food is all about marketing, and they sure do use everything at their disposal.

It’s almost like you can’t escape it, but commercials are everywhere.

From TV commercials that remind you, you’re hungry, and there’s fast food around the corner or the street sign that shows you a directional arrow, showing you exactly where you need to go. All those bright colors, the enticing food, and the hunger in your stomach just makes sure you can’t resist the urge to go and get some nuggets or a milkshake.

Advertised deals

Who can resist a good deal? You don’t even need to be inside the store to be made aware that there is a crazy good deal going on and you’re missing out.

If you’re walking on by, you tend to notice the exceptionally large posters that display all the discounts they have going on.

You could be enticed for some kind of 2 for 1 on muffins, or just be in for some promo they have, and before you know it you’re through the doors, and they have you hooked. There’s no turning back once you’re in, the grip is too strong, and your need for fries too much to handle.

Bringing in the brand ties

If all that advertisement and enticement wasn’t enough, they also make sure they use other brands to sell their food.

If you tie one popular product with another popular product, then you essentially have a super meal.

For example, Doritos locos taco, if you know you love a good Dorito, then you’re going to feel compelled to buy the product that appeals to you the most. Whether it’s a McFlurry and Maltesers or a galaxy muffin, bringing in familiar brands entices people to make an extra trip to the restaurant, purchasing more than they would and increasing the store’s profits.

Dishing out coupons

While most people might feel as if, by receiving a coupon, the restaurant is giving you something for free – they’re not.

Often, you will receive a coupon that expires within a week, encouraging you to return within seven days or lose the deal.

Of course, some people would probably return within a week, but most people just don’t have the time, not to mention it’s so unhealthy. It means most people won’t return to use the coupon, and even if they do, there is usually a minimum spend or buy one get one free. It makes them seem generous when it is simply another marketing ploy.

Utilizing app discounts and daily deals

Who can resist the urge when a daily deal is being shoved in their face?

Of course, everything has an app these days, so it makes sense that fast-food chains will also use this as another way of promoting their food.

Of course, who can avoid a push notification promising your favorite combo that’s twenty cents less than it usually is? However, our minds don’t try and add up the savings; instead, we’re too busy feeling hopeful about the fact there is one and how we’re going to take advantage of it. It’s also a constant reminder, making it harder to ignore.

App reward points

People are competitive, so giving them the chance to win something or aim for something encourages people to come back.

By including reward points in the app every time someone purchases a meal, it gives people a feel-good feeling.

By doing this, it entices people to purchase more than they usually would, for the sake of getting something for free, people would happily buy an extra donut or muffin. It’s tough resisting a setup like this designed to make us want more, and when you combine that with daily deals, it’s an inescapable strategy. If you can’t control your urges, don’t download the app!

Dollar menu

We know that they try to hide the dollar menu, but what about having it in the first place?

Fast-food chains are trying to appeal to the broadest demographic possible, and not everyone is going to be compelled to spend $10 per meal.

So, having the dollar menu there in the first place encourages people to come on in and buy something. Not to mention that everything is priced separately, making it so easy for people to just keep adding things individually. Often, it’ll probably end up being around $10 anyway, at least, it certainly won’t stop at a dollar, that’s for sure.

A better food/dollar ratio

Something that also makes a massive difference is if you’re not just buying food for yourself, but if you’re buying in large quantities.

Fast food is cheaper than almost everything else on offer when it comes to buying out.

More people will want to get more food for their money, and fast food is the best way to do that. Since their profit margins are meager, they can afford to make their menu appear to be better valued. Of course, it’s far less healthy for people, but unless you want to spend a lot of money at a casual restaurant, it’s the cheapest option.

Add ons and options

Let’s be honest, who really gets their meal in a small? It’s pretty tough when you can see a minor price difference between a small, medium, and large.

50 cents might not seem so much until you end up spending an extra dollar per item for a large.

People are desperate to get value for money, and the add on options make it appear as if you’re getting much more food, then the price difference considers. Of course, that’s not the case, and often you’ll end up with more food than you can actually eat, or perhaps should considering the sugar and calories.

Price increases

Fast food has actually increased considerably in price, and it’s not just to do with inflation.

In fact, even when compared to every other food-outlets, the prices in fast food have increased dramatically. Since 2008, the cost of fast food has increased by 54%.

While most people have expected price increases to happen over the years, the increase for fast food has been exceptional. This means people have been somewhat conditioned into associating fast food with being cheap, but that’s not necessarily the case anymore. Once an association has been made, it’s tough to take that back; however, the convenience of fast food always tends to draw people in no matter what.


When it seems everything else is closed, and you’ve finished a night shift, or you’re on your way home from somewhere late, you can always rely on a fast-food chain to be open.

By increasing their operating hours, they are increasing the amount of time they are available to sell food and make a profit.

Of course, these will only be around in areas it’s worth having them, but there are plenty of routes that have a fast-food chain close by as the perfect stop. Chances are, you’re going to stop at a 24hr fast food restaurant than anywhere else out of reliability and accessibility.

Ordering kiosk

That ordering kiosk is more of a money-spinner than you may think.

Sure, you don’t have to stand there squinting at the menu for very long, or feel awkwardly goaded into purchasing a meal, but it has other methods.

The ordering kiosks have tons of pictures and use all the same methods that the menu boards do. The options are so easy to choose, it’s almost worse because you have more time to deliberate, add, and decide to be a little naughty. Since people tend to spend more time ordering at one of these, they also tend to order more food and spend more money.

Simplicity, cheap, and bold

This is basically a slogan for fast food marketing techniques. Nothing has too much information, while it might be busy, everything is simply done to make everything easy.

You don’t need to spend ages looking and deliberating over the ingredients, and, after a while, many people memorize the entire menu.

Keeping it ‘cheap,’ or at least, cheaper than healthier casual options and making it the natural choice. For most people, the reason they go to a fast-food chain isn’t that the food is out-of-this-world, but because it’s a simple solution. It’s bold, and a kid can easily point to the perfect kid’s meal that’s in bright red and yellow.

Target demographics

By using these strategies, they’re targeting an exceptionally wide demographic, from early starters and business people who need something quick and easy, to a simple family outing.

By being one of the cheapest options out there, it’s appealing to most people.

Of course, the only demographic it’s likely to appeal to less is the extremely affluent people, but even then, the accessibility of 24-hour fast food and coffee is too lucrative. When it comes to food, people just can’t help themselves, the pleasure parts of the brain can’t handle the look of a juicy beef burger or a sweet banana milkshake.

Bringing everything together

So, when you bring everything together, you basically have the perfect formula for marketing success. Individually, these methods might not pack as much punch, however, when you put it all together, it’s almost impossible to refuse.

Marketing strategies are often about layering them together, rather than something singular.

It’s so clever that it’s designed so that people don’t really know what’s going on, it’s not supposed to be conspicuous or noticeable, and in some ways, more subliminal. The messages are being sent to your brain and making everything seem far more desirable than it would without all the extra features and strategies.