The New Science of Menu Layout |

The New Science of Menu Layout

We've looked at the science of menu design before at Cooking District. Traditional wisdom has said that diners read menus starting just above the midway point on the right hand page, before zooming in on the top right hand corner, then to the top left and then reading down that page before finally finishing the bottom right page.

This belief has long influenced restauranteurs who place higher margin items in what has traditionally been considered the showcase spot. But a new study from Sybil Yang, assistant professor of hospitality and tourism management at San Francisco State University may refute those beliefs.

Yang was moved to study how people read menus based on her own habits and how they conflicted with the understood wisdom. "I could only go from my own experience," Yang explains "so I was thinking, 'am I just weird?' because I don't read it that way."

Neither do many others as it turns out.

Yang had test subjects wear an infrared retinal eye scanner, while reading through a mock menu, and then choose a full meal as if they were at a real restaurant. She used video to record and analyze the readers' eye movements, or scanpaths as they perused the menu.

She found that on average, people read the menu sequentially like a book, moving from left to right and down the pages of the two-page menu. They read slowly, suggesting that they were reading for information rather than just scanning the pages.

While Yang found no evidence of the sweet spot, she did notice a "sour spot" where readers focused for the least amount of time. The sour spot contained information about the restaurant and a list of salads — which merely may not have been of particular interest this group of mock diners.


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