Why is it so hard to decide what you want at a restaurant?

Lady looking at menu

‘What do you want for dinner?’ - that age-old question we ask ourselves before every meal when deciding where to eat or what to pick from the never-ending menu most restaurants offer. But why do we find it so difficult to decide what to eat when we are dining out? In this article, I talk about all the hurdles we come up against when trying to choose that ‘right’ dish.

Too many restaurants?

Where to eat, the topic of many arguments between indecisive couples and friends. And, with so many restaurants offering an abundance of tempting dishes that all sound amazing, how are we ever to decide what to eat? It has been reported by the NY Post that the average American couple spends 132 hours a year squabbling about what they want to eat, which comes as no surprise to me at all. 69 per cent of those studied confessed they don’t like to visit the same restaurant regularly and would always choose to go somewhere new, but 61 per cent of these say finding these new restaurants can be a struggle.

As consumers, we evidently are struggling to cope with the choice being left to us, and when people have to choose between so many options, none perfectly personalised to them, it can be hard to make a call. This is why complete personalisation is so important, as consumers won’t get food FOMO if they know they are receiving a perfectly tailored dish.

Quite a different outcome to those of the drinks industry where drinks, like my own Kolibri, are becoming a huge trend due to their option of choice.

Too many options?

Once we’ve made it into a restaurant, the pressure to quickly make a decision can be hindered by the hunger of our brain comparing tastes, understanding what nutrients it may need and typically just trying to find other ways to make it complicated for us. Add that onto the fact that there is more than one person trying to decide and it all becomes a little chaotic.

With more and more vegan, plant-based, vegetarian and gluten-free options cropping up on menus across the globe, do you try and make a conscious choice to get those? Do you choose something you can’t recreate at home like sushi or an authentic Indian curry, or do you want something light and less filling?

The pressure of the choice you have to make can be the real cause of the problem, leading us to think that the decision is actually harder than it is. Life Hacker reported “Linda Sapadin, PhD at Psych Central explains that part of the problem is that a lot of things sound good at the time: Decisions force us to close the door on other possibilities, small ones and big ones. You can't order every delicious dish on the menu... Fantasise all you like, but you'll never really know.”

Glasses on table in restaurant

 Why has this become a problem?

With the huge growth that the dining industry sees on a yearly basis, restaurants, menus and cuisines are becoming a battlefield of decisions due to the sheer amount on offer. And, with so much to choose from, you can worry about making the wrong decision as soon as you have ordered.

Munchies recently reported: “Researchers at Caltech were inspired by a study conducted in California two decades ago. In that study, researchers set up a table offering free samples of jam to customers in a grocery store, at times setting out 24 flavours’ of jam and at other times only six. While the jam buffet of 24 flavours attracted more customers, it resulted in far few purchases of jam; shoppers who stopped at the table set with six jams were ten times more likely to pick a flavour and buy it.”

How can we make it easier for our customers to decide?

There are some simple ways to make this whole process a little easier for the consumer. Breaking down your menu isn’t always feasible, but the brands and companies doing this are seeing great results, and in return, their clients return again and again.

Restaurants like Roxie decided to concentrate on one idea and do it well, in this case, that was steak. Choose your cut, choose how it’s cooked and choose what sauce accompanies it. Offering their dishes like this makes ordering simple but still give you a degree of control over what they’re eating. They may run the risk of losing custom, but the consumers who do visit know what they’re getting and a lot of the time they say that a minimal menu can be a huge relief. So, does the option of choice hinder their dining experiences?

As I previously mentioned in my recent book, Bespoke: “A menu can direct your consumers towards an item that you want to promote while remaining within context of the customer having the power to choose. However, beware of offering too much choice since this may overload your customer’s brain, resulting in poor decision making which leaves them confused and dissatisfied.” 

Kolibri in glass

 To make choices easier, you next dine out, discussing what cuisine or dishes you want to try with your partner beforehand is probably a great idea and if you struggle to make a decision, head to an eatery that does all the hard work for you.