Behavioural Science
How Menu Design Can Nudge Healthy Eating

With most Western countries facing an obesity crisis, many believe that new legislation on reduced portion sizes and soft drink sizes should be implemented in restaurants to help solve the crisis. Brian Wansink, Marketing professor and Director of the Cornell University Food and Brand Lab, argues that this is not necessary, and we should instead look to menu psychology to encourage people to make healthier choices. He argues that by using psychological insight, menus can be designed in such a way to nudge people toward low calorie options with high profit margins, thus benefiting both consumers’ waistlines and the financial health of restaurants. In a recent paper, Wansink and Katie Love of Furman University explain four different nudges that can be implemented on a menu to influence consumers’ food choices.

Menu Anchoring

Healthier, low-cost starters are placed around the restaurant’s most expensive item. These starters, which previously didn’t seem particularly good value, now seem like a great deal as they surround the expensive item.

The Pain of Paying

By removing the currency sign, people become less conscious of the price of the item and are therefore more likely to choose it.


As most customers read menus by scanning the four corners of the page before flipping to the next, Wansink advises restaurants to place the healthy choices in these locations to ensure customers engage with the healthy items which therefore increases the likelihood that they will purchase them.

Power of Adjectives

Research has shown that children are more likely to order “X-ray carrots” than just “carrots”, and adults are more likely to order a “succulent Italian seafood fillet” than “fish sticks”. Wansink believes restaurants aren’t using enough purple prose to push healthier choices. Instead, they often use the enticing words to push the unhealthy items. For example, he suggests that restaurants should take the “velvet” from “velvety chocolate mousse” and apply it to items such as “velvety mashed cauliflower”.

Restaurants don’t need to implement these suggestions for moral reasons, as Wansink argues that restaurants can gain financially from selling healthier food. He notes that healthier food is cheaper and easier to make, and therefore, by increasing the number of people who purchase the healthier food, restaurants will only stand to make a profit.

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