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Digital Screens and Their Effect on Check Averages

By: Michael Gorecki

Could check averages be increased by using an online or digital ordering system? According to a study conducted by the University of Berkeley, they can1. The reason, they believe, is caused by a phenomenon called the online disinhibition effect.

The online disinhibition effect is the theory that social restrictions and inhibitions are lost when interacting online. Because of the lack of face to face interaction people feel less social pressure to behave according to cultural norms, which when it comes to food means ordering that extra bacon on top with a side of more bacon.

The behavioral scientists behind the study analyzed a pizza chain that had just introduced a new delivery app. What they found was when people ordered through the app there was a 30% increase in the amount of toppings added and an overall increase of 6% in calorie content than when people ordered in-store. Bacon sales alone saw an increase of 20%. Why was this happening?

They believe that the lack of direct human interaction and social pressures allowed customers to order things they wouldn’t have usually ordered. In a typical waiter-customer exchange, they argue that, there are two things a customer wants to avoid; one being ordering something that will make them appear unhealthy and the other doing something that would make them seem difficult i.e. asking for extra toppings or making a bunch of substitutions. Humans have an internal desire to show their best side even if it is not their usual self. This means when ordering food, choosing the healthier and simpler option.

However, when ordering online or from a digital menu these social pressures disappear – technology does not judge. So customers give in to their most gluttonous desires and indulge, they add on those extra toppings and go through their laundry list of substitutions, which ultimately raises the bill.

What can restaurants do with this? One way they can capitalize on this idiosyncratic behavior is through the copy they use and the type of items they offer online. Having a special “We Won’t Tell” menu that serves overly indulgent items can prove more profitable online than in store. Highlighting add-ons with pop up boxes or bright colors throughout the online ordering process, can encourage guests to splurge and indulge. The other thing restaurants can do, depending on the concept, is let guests order directly from tablets, with limited face-to-face interaction, guests can feel more comfortable to order something they wouldn’t have otherwise. Like the double stuffed oreo chocolate shake with bacon on top… doesn’t exist but I know I would order it from my tablet with no shame.

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