Use Menu Psychology To Entice Diners

CHICKEN liver is what the restaurateur Danny Meyer calls a torpedo.

Left to its own devices, it may be unappetizing and unpopular, but when paired with what he calls an enhancer applewood smoked bacon in the case of the chicken liver on the menu at Tabla, Mr. Meyers Indian fusion restaurant in the Flatiron District it not only excites the taste buds but goes to work on the mind.

And the name of the Tabla appetizer, Boodies Chicken Liver Masala, draws even deeper from the growing field of menu psychology because Boodie is the mother of Floyd Cardoz, Tablas executive chef. People like the names of mothers, grandmothers and other relatives on their menus, and research shows they are much more likely to buy, say, Grandmas zucchini cookies, burgers freshly ground at Uncle Sols butcher shop this morning and Aunt Phylliss famous wedge salad.

After Tabla merged with its downstairs sibling, the Bread Bar at Tabla, in October, Mr. Meyer and his team spent months pondering such matters before unveiling a new menu earlier this month. The price of Boodies chicken livers, for example, is $9, written simply as 9. This is a friendly and manageable number at a time when numbers really need to be friendly and manageable. Besides, it has no dollar sign. In the world of menu engineering and pricing, a dollar sign is pretty much the worst thing you can put on a menu, particularly at a high-end restaurant. Not only will it scream Hello, you are about to spend money! into a diners tender psyche, but it can feel aggressive and look tacky. So can price formats that end in the numeral 9, as in $9.99, which tend to signify value but not quality, menu consultants and researchers say.

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Illustration by Dave Plunkert, The New York Times