Study of the Day: How We Really Read Restaurant Menus

Most diners go through menus like a book, moving from left to right, and they avoid the—no surprise here—section that lists salads.

main AISPIX by Image Source shutterstock_78741673.jpg

PROBLEM: In the '70s, William Doerfler published an influential "focal map" of menu reading noting that a diner's eyes zigzag across pages and focus for the longest on a "sweet spot" lying just above the midline on the right-hand page. He was a graphic designer.

METHODOLOGY: To check the veracity of Doerfler's study, San Francisco State University hospitality management professor Sybil Yang asked test subjects to wear an infrared retinal eye scanner as they read through a mock menu and chose a full meal, as if they were at a real restaurant. She used video to record and analyze their eye movements as well.

RESULTS: On average, the participants 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 critically and not just scanning the pages. While they didn't fixate on a particular area, they did spend very little time on a "sour spot," which contained information about the restaurant and a list of salads. Their eye movements also suggested that they chose an entrée first and then built a meal around it.

CONCLUSION: Diners read menus like a book and their gaze doesn't linger over any particular location on the menu.

SOURCE: The full study, "Eye Movements on Restaurant Menus: A Revisitation on Gaze motion and Consumer Scanpaths" (PDF), is published in the journal International Journal of Hospitality Management.

Image: AISPIX by Image Source/Shutterstock.

Presented by

Hans Villarica writes for and produces The Atlantic's Health channel. His work has appeared in TIME, People Asia, and Fast Company.

The Blacksmith: A Short Film About Art Forged From Metal

"I'm exploiting the maximum of what you can ask a piece of metal to do."

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

Riding Unicycles in a Cave

"If you fall down and break your leg, there's no way out."

Video

Carrot: A Pitch-Perfect Satire of Tech

"It's not just a vegetable. It's what a vegetable should be."

Video

An Ingenious 360-Degree Time-Lapse

Watch the world become a cartoonishly small playground

Video

The Benefits of Living Alone on a Mountain

"You really have to love solitary time by yourself."

Video

The Rise of the Cat Tattoo

How a Brooklyn tattoo artist popularized the "cattoo"

More in Health

Just In