Have you ever been at a restaurant, ordered a meal and when it arrived it was not what you actually wanted? Ordering the wrong food is not your fault according to a new study published in the International Journal of Hospitality Management and is really the menu’s fault. What you order has more to do with how the menu has been laid out, designed and its descriptions rather than what you want.

After analyzing 217 menus and over 300 selections of diners a Cornell study found that when ordering food, especially dinner, it comes down to two things which matter the most to your decision. Firstly what you see on the menu and secondly how you imagine it will taste.

If the food item has been written in bold, highlighted or colour font or even if it set aside in its own text box it will attract your attention more and makes it more likely to be ordered than an item say listed next to it.

“In most cases, these are the least healthy items on the menu,” said lead author, Brian Wansink, author of Slim by Design: Mindless Eating Solutions for Everyday Life.

If the menu has names of food that are very descriptive it is found that these items sell better because they have led you to believe they taste better. Researchers used a study where they changed names of menu dishes to be more descriptive like the seafood filet became Succulent Italian Seafood Filet and red beans and rice became Cajun Red Beans and Rice. After the changes these dishes saw an increase of 28% in sales and were even rated to taste better yet it was the same recipe always used. What they also found was that customers were even willing to pay an extra 12% more for items on the menu with descriptive names.

A great solution to combat these menu tactics is to, “Just ask your server. Ask ‘What are your two or three lighter entrées that get the most compliments?’ or ‘What’s the best thing on the menu if a person wants a light dinner?'” says Wansink.

Restaurants should employ tactics like catching your attention and priming your imagination to guide their diners to buy healthier high margin items as this is one way menu design could help make diners slim by design according to Wansink and co-author Katie Love.