Contrast Effect: Price like a restaurateur

Have you ever worked your way through the menu at a nicer restaurant and found a very expensive item toward the end? That item is a decoy and likely the restaurant doesn’t want you to purchase it, they just want you to think that the next most expensive item doesn’t look quite so spendy in comparison. So says a New York Times piece on the secrets of how high-end restaurants use psychology to entice diners.

This works because of a cognitive bias known as contrast effect, where items are reduced or enhanced based on contrasting items recently observed. Once you’ve seen a $75 lobster on the menu, a $50 steak looks pretty reasonable.

With the holiday gift catalog season just around the corner, you have a great opportunity to test using the contrast effect in your pricing. Test adding a very expensive item to your catalog — it could just be a multiplier of another offer. Seeing it will provide contrast for the other items in the catalog and might move people to give larger gifts than they would have otherwise.

Clean Water

Here’s an example of contrast effect from a catalog we did for one of our clients.

They likely won’t get many $4,000 gifts (there have been a couple in the past) but that’s not the point. The contrast of providing water to an ENTIRE VILLAGE for $4,000 makes $100 to provide water for 5 families more attractive.

If you want to chat about the fascinating ways cognitive biases can enhance marketing, contact me at