Ways restaurants get you to spend more money

Think back to the last time you ate at a fancy restaurant and try to remember the exact dialogue you had with your server. When you sat down you were probably asked rather quickly if you’d like a cocktail, and if you’d prefer still or sparkling water. Then you were told the specials for the evening, placed your order, ate, got your check, paid, and left.

But during that seemingly innocuous meal, odds are that several different attempts were made to get you to spend more money.

Restaurants bilk unsuspecting customers out of their hard-earned cash nearly every time they sit down to eat and they use some tried-and-true approaches. One major technique is subtle intimidation: “Are you sure you don’t want to order a side dish? The macaroni and cheese is to die for.” They also play on our embarrassment; for example, they’ll do everything they can to prevent you from ordering the cheapest bottle of wine on the menu.

But the rip-off game goes even further than that. Next time you’re dining out, pay close attention to the way the server treats you. Odds are they’ll be chummy, like an old friend, trying to help you navigate your way through the menu and order the best food you can. But don’t be fooled: you’re just a paying customer. Their #1 job is to get you to rack up the largest bill possible so their tip will be higher. If that means being phony and underhanded, so be it.

At the end of the day, dining out is all theatre. ‘Backstage’ in the kitchen, the staff is shouting, harried, and oftentimes pulling their hair out because a diner order a steak well-done and then sent it back for being overcooked. But once they step onstage in the main dining room, everything is serene and peaceful, and “We’re so sorry about that, we’ll have the chef prepare another for you right away.” Because the more relaxed a customer is, the more money they’ll be cool with spending.

Read on to learn more ways that restaurants try to get you to spend more money.

1. “Still or Sparkling?”


When you sit down, the first question you’re asked is what kind of water you want. You’re guided towards ordering bottled water (sometimes they don’t even give you the option of tap), and those bottles can be expensive. So unless you’re someplace where the quality of the water is extremely questionable, you’ll be fine with tap.

2. “Can I start you off with a cocktail?”


Servers usually ask this question within 10 seconds of greeting customers, so diners are unprepared and haven’t even had a chance to look over the cocktail list to get a sense of the prices. Ask for some more time: it’ll help slow down the pace of the meal and will give you a chance to realize that your martini will set you back $16.

3. “We have some specials this evening…”


It’s rare when a server actually tells you the price of the daily specials, which more often than not are more expensive than most listed menu items. Always ask the price of a special before ordering it, and also remember that many specials are nothing special; they’re just thrown together using leftover ingredients they’re trying to get rid of.

4. “I would recommend the 2006...”


Restaurants rake in the dough from wine sales, and have some sneaky ways to get you to spend more money on wine than you planned. Many diners are too embarrassed to order the least expensive bottle on the list, so they’ll opt for the second-least expensive. Restaurants know this, so they tend to place the biggest markup on that very bottle (meaning that its wholesale price very well might be less than the least-expensive bottle). Also, they’ll guide you toward a more expensive bottle under the pretense that it will work better with the food you ordered.

See more ways restaurants get you to spend big.

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