Navigating Restaurant Menus to Avoid Ordering Too Much Food

Navigating Restaurant Menus to Avoid Ordering Too Much Food

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When you set food inside a fast-food restaurant, you must be as hungry as a wolf – or just plain hungry for satisfying, affordable, and delicious meals. This is true whether you are at McDonald’s or a specialty chain like Chipotle.


You begin to assess the menu including their prices, as well as the available value meals, meal deals, and meal packages. You decide whether you want comfort food or you want to expand your culinary repertoire. You even begin to count calories in your head as much as you calculate your meal’s impact on your wallet.  


The result: Decision overload! You will likely just order everything within your budget to lessen the number of decisions you have to make, which then results in overeating.  


This is not surprising as fast-food restaurant chains are well-versed in the psychology of encouraging its customers to order more and eat more, and then come back for more. You will likely not notice it but you will feel its impact in your waistline and wallet.  


Here are the ways that the restaurant industry puts its tricks to work and the ways that you can avoid these traps. You should also add personal willpower to the mix as your mind will know exactly what your tongue wants and order more, nonetheless.  

Burden of Choices and More Choices


What is the ideal number of items on a fast-food menu? Researchers at Bournemouth University discovered that people wanted fast-food joints to have six items in every category, namely, starters and soups, steaks and burgers, vegetarian and pasta dishes, grilled and classic meat dishes, chicken dishes, fish, and desserts.


In typical fast-food restaurants, you will find a wide range of food items that making your choice can be challenging. Your mind screams to buy virtually everything on the menu but you already know about the limitations of your budget and body, thus, decisions must be made.


Keep these tips in mind:


  • Determine whether you want a full meal or a light snack –or anything in between. You will be less likely to order more beyond your light snack plan when you already have it in mind even before you enter the doors.  


  • Stick to the packages, if possible, especially when you are on a budget. This makes sense because a meal deal usually contains the basics of a meal at more affordable prices. But you can always choose single orders in case you want a light snack instead of a mid-sized or full-sized meal.  


  • Look at the calorie count instead of the prices for each food item; since restaurants are required by law to comply with nutrition labeling requirements, this should be an easier task. You will be surprised that you can achieve a balance between good nutrition and good price at fast-food restaurants with healthier eating choices.  


For example, when you look at the Taco Bell menu prices, you will be attracted to the meal deals. But when you look at the nutrition labels, you will have second thoughts about getting a few of the food items.  


Language of Food Involved, Too


Even in fast-food restaurants where no-frills food is served, you will find that its dishes and desserts are named and described in ways that encourage diners to purchase them. The effect on diners is such that you will want to buy a food item not on your original plan but upon reading the description, you will add it to your order.  


Among the common ways that fast-food and fine dining restaurants use language to encourage diners to order and eat more include:


  • Giving the food item an ethnic label, such as an Italian name for a spaghetti-based dish, which will make it sound and look more authentic.
  • Adding an evocative description with imaginative adjectives, which will bring about positive images about the dishes’ tastes, textures, and flavors.
  • Placing labels that direct diners’ attention toward a certain dish’s features, which also reinforce an image in their minds.   


But there is only so much evocative language that can be used to name and describe fast-food menus before diners become skeptical of the hype. Many fast-food restaurants let the food speak for itself with the ingredients usually listed in simple terms, perhaps with one or two evocative words.  In the end, diners will judge the fast-food based largely on its food as well as on its service, price, and environment.


You will also find that a little planning will go a long way toward avoiding filling your plate with fattening fast-food items.


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