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The 6 Tricks Restaurants Use to Make You Eat and Pay More

author image Shannan Rouss

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The 6 Tricks Restaurants Use to Make You Eat and Pay More
Your favorite restaurant may be tricking you into eating and paying more. Photo Credit: Rawpixel/iStock/GettyImages

Despite conclusive research that shows people who cook at home have healthier diets and save money on food, everyone knows it’s more convenient — and sometimes just more fun — to hit up a restaurant every once in a while.

But did you know your favorite restaurant may be tricking you into eating and paying more? To help you stick to both your diet and your budget the next time you dine out, we’re revealing the restaurant industry’s dirty tricks that get their customers to eat and pay more than they intended.

1. Dining Distractions
If you go to a sports bar to watch your favorite team, eat during halftime to avoid mindless consumption. Photo Credit: stocksy/Sean Locke

1 Dining Distractions

Loaded potato skins, bottomless bloody marys and creamy spinach aren’t the only reason sports bars are bad for your diet. Those jumbo-size flat-screens coming at you from every angle are also contributing to bad eating choices.

A recent study on mindless eating published by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that watching TV while chowing down leads to consuming 10 percent more calories on average. What’s even worse, because you haven’t paid attention during your mealtime, you may even end up eating 25 percent more calories later in the day. If cheering on your team at the bar is a must, try enjoying your meal during halftime. That way you can focus on the grub, not the game. Talk about a win-win.

Read more: No, Coffee Isn’t Going to Give You Cancer (Despite California’s Warning)

2. Clearing the Table
A study on consumer behavior determined that a clear table encourages diners to order and eat more. Photo Credit: Marta Ortiz/iStock/GettyImages

2 Clearing the Table

There is a reason the restaurant staff may be eager to take your plate once you’ve set your fork down. It turns out that clearing the table, along with any sign of what you’ve already eaten, may encourage you to order more. A study in Appetite, a journal that looks at consumer behavior toward food and beverages, showed that people consumed 22 percent fewer calories (in the form of pistachio nuts) when the shells were left in plain sight compared to when the empty shells were whisked away.

Study author and behavioral eating expert James Painter, Ph.D., attributes the differences to what a person can see. “When a person has visual cues of ‘leftovers,’ such as pistachio shells, they can see how many or how much they have eaten, helping to control portion size and consumption,” he said. While no one wants dirty dishes sitting on the table, it might not be a bad idea to keep them around, at least until you’ve ordered more (if you’re at a tapas place, for example) or asked for the check.

Read more: What’s Really Inside Your Movie Theater Popcorn?

3. Bargain Bites
Lunch specials don’t always translate into big savings for your wallet. Photo Credit: McKee

3 Bargain Bites

Sure, it’s considerate of restaurants to offer diners half or lunch-size portions along with calorie counts on their menus. But there’s a catch: At many places, the smaller option might be half the size of an entree, but only 20 percent cheaper. As a result, customers are likely to ignore calorie count altogether and go for the full-size portion, according to a study published in Appetite.

“When the value is bigger, it gives people permission to order larger portions,” said study author Kelly Haws, an associate professor of marketing at the Vanderbilt Owen Graduate School of Management. “So if you offer people a good deal, the calorie information is kind of irrelevant.” Because restaurants aren’t likely to change their pricing structures, it’s up to us to prioritize our waistlines over our wallets.

Read more: 16 Snacks That Are OK to Eat at Night

4. Banking on Buzzwords
Don’t assume the meal you are about to eat is healthier because of some trendy buzzwords like “local,” “cage-free” and “sustainable.” Photo Credit: istetiana/iStock/GettyImages

4 Banking on Buzzwords

Words like “natural,” “local,” “sustainable,” “cage-free” and “grass-fed” are showing up on more and more menus, according to a report by foodservice consulting company Technomic. Heck, even McDonald’s has announced plans to serve only cage-free eggs. It makes sense that restaurants (fast-food joints included) are relying on these clean-sounding, eco-friendly buzzwords: A recent study by the Journal of Hospitality & Tourism Research found that consumers are willing to pay more for “green practices” at a restaurant.

The problem? It’s easy to assume that “greener” means less fat or fewer calories, which isn’t always the case. For example, locally sourced bacon has just as many fat and calories as all other bacon. The same goes for free-range fried chicken and flourless chocolate cake, even if it’s made from scratch using only the finest "all-natural" ingredients.

Read more: Whole-Grain Isn’t Better Than White — and More Bread Myths Busted by Science

5. Full Food Exposure
Open kitchens in restaurants can trigger the release of ghrelin, the hunger hormone, and increase your appetite. Photo Credit: Twenty20/@masterone

5 Full Food Exposure

Old-school dessert carts, open kitchens and chef’s counters are just a few of the latest ways restaurants are enticing diners to eat up. After all, research has shown that the mere sight of something delicious can trigger the release of ghrelin, the so-called hunger hormone, and increase appetite. Not that we can fault a place for putting their food on display. After all, it’s a restaurant — you’re there to eat and (hopefully) enjoy it.

To help you avoid overindulging, try slowing down during your meal. This study, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, found that chewing food more slowly (40 times per bite, as opposed to the typical 15) was associated with lower blood levels of ghrelin and helped people consume 12 percent fewer calories. Chew on that.

Read more: 10 Trendy Foods That Can Threaten Your Waistline

6. Musical Influence
Slow-tempo music encourages diners to linger longer. Photo Credit: UGURTAN/iStock/GettyImages

6 Musical Influence

Speaking of chewing, restaurant insiders have known for years that uptempo music leads to more bites per minute. That’s good for any business that’s hoping to get customers in and out quickly (aka “increase table turnover” in restaurant parlance). The problem, of course, is that eating quickly is also linked to consuming more calories.

On the other hand, slow-tempo music keeps diners in their seats longer — and may result in one too many cabernets. Citing a study from the Association for Consumer Research, the National Restaurant Association writes that slow-tempo music increases the amount diners spent by 23 percent, with most of that going to the drink bill.

Read more: The Best and Worst Frozen Food

What Do YOU Think?
Tell us what you think! Photo Credit: LuminaStock/iStock/GettyImages

What Do YOU Think?

Have you fallen for any of these restaurant tricks? Are there any other ones we might have missed? Let us know in the comments below!

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