Check, please! Beware this secret spend-more trick

Researchers at the Center for Hospitality Research at Cornell University recently uncovered a tantalizing tidbit in their study of restaurant menus. While the intent of the report is to tell restaurant operators how to milk a few extra bucks out of diners (that's you!), here's the scoop so you can avoid forking over more per forkful.

Psychologists who study the relationship consumers have with their money had assumed that spelling out prices using words (that is, "one dollar" instead of "$1") would make patrons willing to spend more. This is why you'll typically see the spelled-out version of prices on menus at more elegant eateries.In reality, what really gets people to spend more is by eliminating any mention of either the word or the symbol for dollar. In other words, you'll spend more if a restaurant lists a price at "15" instead of "$15" or "fifteen dollars." While the report did point out that other factors also influence how much someone pays when dining out, researchers said, "[W]e saw a significant spending difference for menus that presented prices as numerals only."

The designers of the study speculated that eliminating references to dollars reduced what they called the "pain of paying" in customers' minds. So don't be surprised -- and don't be suckered into paying more -- if you're at a restaurant in the near future and your waiter or waitress hands you a menu that's "dollar free." Do whatever you have to do: Close your eyes and imagine the d-word after all those tidy rows of numbers, say the prices out loud and tack on the word "dollars," heck, use those crayons that came with your kid's disposable placemat to add those $s back on the page.*

One other thing: While this study applied only to restaurant menus, keep its results in mind when shopping for other things, too. If you see anything from a jacket to a throw pillow to an MP3 player advertised with just numbers, pause and imagine that invisible dollar sign, then ask yourself if it's really such a great deal before throwing it in your cart.

*No, we don't really endorse defacing restaurant property, but any other creative ways you can think of to remember those all-important dollars are welcome in the comments!

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