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Dine out, without forking out

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Australians are spending less on fine dining and more time eating at home, cooking at least five nights a week, research suggests.

Fewer than one in 10 of us dine out more than twice a week and when we go out for dinner, we rarely spend more than $50 per head, research by Melbourne's Good Food and Wine Show has found.

Dining out at restaurants is one of life's little luxuries. But what you may not know is that some restaurants are employing tactics to try and get you to order what they want in a bid to boost profits.

Restaurant critic Simon Thomsen explains the psychology of the menu.

"It partly comes from the way we read a newspaper," he told morning news program Breakfast.

We typically read a menu from the right-hand side and in an anti-clockwise motion, according to Thomsen.

"Not every restaurant does it but certainly the cheaper restaurants where they are trying to sell the dishes with the most margin, the biggest profit," he said.

"They put all of those [dishes] in the top right hand corner and maybe put an expensive dish beside it. The idea is that you look at the next dish underneath it and it suddenly seems cheap by comparison but it might be the most profitable one on the menu."

These tactics extend to the wine list too, according to Thomsen.

"We probably all go to the cheapest wine on the list, but then we think "oh not that cheap" and you go for the second cheapest one. Interestingly enough, that's the one where they put the most profit," he said.

It doesn't stop there, however. Some restaurateurs encourage diners towards a certain dish by employing enticing adjectives, such as "succulent", "famous", "hand-picked" and "slow-roasted", to name a few.

"All of those things are designed to entice us to order a particular dish," he said.

Understanding these tactics and choosing a dish accordingly, is one way to trim a restaurant bill. Other diners are reducing meal costs and even getting "freebies" by swiping their credit cards.

Michelle Hutchison, spokeswoman for RateCity, said several credit card rewards programs offer restaurant vouchers as an option when redeeming rewards in the same way cardholders can get free merchandise or flights.

"There are around a dozen credit cards in the RateCity database, including cards from Bankwest, HSBC and GE Money, which offer restaurant vouchers as part of a rewards program," she said.

"But these special deals often come at a price, with high interest rates or a big annual fee, so consumers need to weigh up the offer and look for any hidden costs."

Citibank, however, offers customers a dining-specific program attached to its Plus Transaction Account and fee-free debit card.

"It's designed around a list of restaurants, where cardholders get a significant bonus just by using their card," said Hutchison. "There's no need to accumulate points; just swipe the card and get something for free."   

 

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