Is there really a menu 'sweet spot'?

For decades the conventional wisdom in the restaurant industry has been that there is a menu ‘sweet spot’ where diners first look and look the most. The alleged sweet spot is just above the midline on the right hand page. That is where restaurants place the items they want to sell the most. Restaurant menu designers have also long believed there is a menu scan path where reader’s eyes zigzag across menu pages and focus the longest time on the right-hand sweet spot.

The conventional wisdom of a menu sweet spot and how people scan a menu

Sybil Yang, Assistant Professor of Hospitality and Tourism Management at San Francisco State University, recently conducted research that indicates that the conventional wisdom about menu design is mistaken; average diners actually read menus sequentially like a book and their gaze doesn’t linger longer on any particular spot.

Yang had test subjects wear an infrared retinal eye scanner and read thru a mock menu to choose a full meal as if they were at a real restaurant. She used video to record and analyze the readers’ eye movements or scan paths as they read the menus.

She found that on average, people read menus sequentially like a book, moving from left to right and down the pages of a two-page menu. They read slowly, suggesting they are reading for information rather than just scanning the pages. There was no evidence of a sweet spot where they focused the longest.

How people really read a menu, just like a book

Yang said, “The good news [for restaurants] is that people are reading menus carefully, and that they seem to be choosing an entrée and then building a menu around it.”

CBS This Morning ran a recent story on the 5 things you should know about restaurant menus that also has some good pointers on menu design. You can access that story and video by clicking here.