F&B is tough. Offering great food is just one part of the equation. Being successful takes much more, and in a highly competitive marketplace everyone is looking for ways to squeeze out every little advantage they can find. If you’re looking for ways to improve your F&B performance, science can provide some useful ideas.

Get subtle with hidden signals

Assuming you already have a top-notch chef, you can still give him a little extra help by making sure your outlet uses music. Studies have shown that music is closely linked to higher food intake. Further research into this phenomenon has revealed that diners spend longer eating in the presence of music, and during that time their consumption of food and drinks is greater. Interestingly, neither the volume nor the tempo of the music will bring about any significant differences in the general trend for customers to eat more, although we could not find any studies involving bagpipes.

On a related note, the sound of the food itself is also important. When diners can hear themselves chewing, they tend to consume less. Researchers claim that this is because the sound serves as a consumption monitoring cue, subtly persuading people to restrain themselves at the dinner table.

Another way to cleverly influence your guests to eat more is to take advantage of the effects of color. Even something as simple as serving snacks in a blue bowl rather than a red one can have a positive impact. Red can act as a subconscious stop signal for customers; they might not realize it, but on average they’ll consume less when your tableware is sending hidden messages.

Keep them focused

I was recently given three types of menu all in one: Western, Thai, and the Chef’s Specials. I looked through them all, took my time, checked again, and then ordered a simple salad and the roast chicken. Going through all those choices was hard. You don’t want to get it wrong, so you end up overthinking before eventually settling for the tried and tested – and that’s probably not one of the most profitable items that the restaurant really wants you to buy.

The problem here can be explained with a couple of theories. First is Hick’s Law, which explains that decision-making takes longer when there are more options to pick from – with the increase in time being logarithmic and also dependent on the intelligence of the person choosing. Empirical evidence also suggests that decision times are lower when items are presented in alphabetical order – and while that would mean desserts before starters, you can still take advantage of the effect with the right menu structure and layout.

The second factor involves cognitive load theory, which holds that the brain has limited processing capacity in the working memory, which is where we perform tasks which require concentration. Comparing a number of menu items requires each to be held in the working memory at the same time, and the brain very quickly becomes overloaded.

To avoid this problem, it’s a good idea to break the selection process down into stages which have fewer options. In this example, starting by asking the diner if they prefer the Western, Thai, or Special menu would be a good start as it eliminates extraneous information and keeps the guest focused.

The price is right

Price is subjective. A $30 drink could be interpreted as outrageous, good value, or dirt cheap. Changing the way a price is perceived can be as simple as using “charm pricing” which relies on the fact that we tend to process the leftmost digit in a price first, so $8.99 looks like $8. On the other hand, we could also get good results for the same item by using “prestige pricing” and simply writing $10. This price feels good for consumers because it appeals to the emotions and is easy to process.

Another technique related to price perception involves getting rid of the currency symbol. Significant increases in sales have been reported in experiments where dollar signs are eliminated from the menu, although it’s always a good idea to make sure the currency is still mentioned somewhere in the fine print.

One final strategy to try is something we’ve probably all done at some time in one form or another. If you want to look tall, stand next to a short person. If you want a slightly overpriced item to look reasonable, offer it alongside something outrageous. Five hundred baht for this coffee? You must be joking! I’ll have the other one for 199.

Whichever approach you try, the science will back you up – but don’t forget you still need to get the basics right. Make good food, provide great service, be true to your brand and to your fans. Let us know if you applied any of these tips in your restaurants.