How People Choose Restaurants: Top 10 Factors

Understand the psychology behind how diners make decisions.

14 min read
October 18, 2023

Key takeaways

  • Customers choose restaurants for the experience, not just the food, valuing fun, convenience, and a sense of being special.
  • Delicious, appealing food showcased with professional photography and an easy-to-read menu, including price and variety, is crucial.
  • Service quality and friendly staff are key, as customers seek respect, connection, and a positive dining experience.

The single most important thing for your restaurant to do.

You must know what I’m talking about.

Getting picked. Picked over your competitors and picked over the alternatives in your market.

But how do people make these selections?

What factors lead people to select one restaurant over another?

Sure, there are the obvious ones like delicious food and great service.

But there are some critically important factors which are left hidden in plain sight.

In this article, we’ll explore the 10 most important factors to address on your website.

To ensure that you help people on your website become new customers. As efficiently as possible.

1: Experience

Your customers are NOT buying your food.

If they wanted to buy food, they’d go to the grocery store or cook at home.

It would be a lot cheaper. Guaranteed.

Rather, they’re paying you for the experience of your restaurant.

The ability to have fun, out with friends.

The energy of a lively, bustling restaurant.

The bonding experience of a family dinner.

The convenience of fast, delicious food and being treated with respect.

The opportunity to stimulate the senses and live with some variety.

Feeling special and valued.

So talk to them from that perspective. Rather than using your marketing collateral to describe your ingredients or your diverse menu offerings, share info on your experience.

Have something unique? Say it.

Popular for a certain type of diner? Say it.

Have a great ambience that is loved by locals? Say it.

For example: Our restaurant is a local favorite for a casual night out with friends.

People are not buying your food. They’re buying your experience.

So sell them based on your experience.

2: Delicious Food

I know, I know.

I just said that people aren’t buying your food.

So: why should you showcase your delicious food anyway?

Because your food is an essential part of your experience.

It matters. A lot. In fact, some studies say it’s the single biggest component of the experience.

So use your website to showcase your most popular dishes.

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Use perfect, meticulously edited food pictures.

Share your ingredients and how they’re sourced.

Describe your menu in such a way that teases the senses.

This is worth investing in professional photography and editing for.

Because most diners will judge you based on your food photography.

As a plus, you can use the pictures you get to bolster your social media presence.

3: Menu (Price + Offerings)

And an essential part of your food offering is how you communicate it.

Not just through pictures. But through a menu.

Menus are the single biggest reason why people visit restaurant websites.

And, of course, they play a huge role in their decision making process.

So make sure your menu page is easy to browse, mobile friendly, and up to date.

Try putting your most popular dishes up at the top. We found that doing that increases conversion rate from menu to online order by over 7%.

Because you’re showing them the dishes that everyone else loves.

The other important component of a menu? Price.

Restaurant customers are price sensitive. That’s no secret.

And it means that your prices matter. A lot. There’s so much competition that people are really picky about what price is fair for what offering.

The good news is that people aren’t totally rational.

And you can use tricks, like price anchoring, to make your menu seem more affordable.

A lot of the top restaurants do, in fact.

How does it work? Basically, lead your online menu with an expensive, popular dish.

Let’s say… Filet Mignon $37

When people first see that price, they’ll automatically see the higher number and it will influence how they perceive other numbers afterwards. This has been proven in countless studies.

So, if you then proceed the Filet Mignon $37 with Calamari $13 and French Onion Soup $17, suddenly the two dishes – which would probably look pricier on their own, look far more reasonable and affordable.

Because we’ve contrasted them with an expensive dish, rather than letting them be interpreted on their own.

4: Type Of Food

It’s important to make it clear what type of restaurant you are. And what people should expect.

Because it gives diners a sense of what type of experience you offer based on their past experiences.

If you want one more menu tip, it’s this. Don’t be too unique.

Mexican restaurants should serve people popular mexican food. If you chose to open a restaurant of a popular type, you must reliably provide popular items of that type that people expect.

Otherwise, people will be frustrated in trying your experience because you’ll have broken the expectations you set for them by saying you were a certain type of restaurant.

So, if you are a certain type of restaurant, serve the most popular dishes of that cuisine.

You can have some unique dishes. But don’t completely reinvent the wheel.

Or you’ll lose the benefit of having chosen a popular type: familiarity.

In short...

I don’t want to go to a Mexican restaurant that doesn’t serve tacos. Just to see a Mexican-American hotdog hybrid in their place.

That’s just not right.

5: Service Quality

People want to be treated with respect and made to feel special.

A huge part of the reason they’re going out, and not eating groceries at home, is the feeling that they get. It’s a feeling of significance and connection. Of feeling valued.

So be very clear on your website and marketing collateral that you offer great service.

That your customers are treated with respect and that your team is passionate.

It really matters to some people. And catering to those people is super important.

6: Friendly Staff

Service quality and friendliness go hand in hand.

But it’s so important that I had to mention it anyway.

People want people they can talk to who will smile and be friendly.

Not people who will give them attitude on the questions they ask and act like serving them is a burden.

So ensure that you communicate that your team is extremely friendly and passionate.

Use reviews complimenting your team’s kindness on your website to help with this.

That way, you’ll help potential diners check that off their mental list of if your restaurant is worth going to.

7: Location

People want a location that is convenient, safe, and fun.

So make it very clear where your restaurant is. Have pictures.

Interactive maps are even better. Because people can use them to understand how close they are.

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Directions buttons are super helpful for this, too.

It’s that simple.

8: Online Reviews

People follow people.

You know it. I know it. It’s human nature.

Even if we don’t like to admit it about ourselves.

It’s true. When we think something is perceived as great by others, we view it as better.

You can leverage this to your advantage by showcasing online reviews.

The best part? It’s your website. And that means, you get to pick which ones to showcase.

So pick ones that make your restaurant seem popular and loved by your customers.

That will help you be perceived as great by others. And increase your odds of people who are interested in your brands becoming your new customers.

If you want to get really fancy, you can even split test different reviews against one another to scientifically determine which leads you to generate new customers at a better rate.

Fascinating, right?

9: Pricing

It’s no secret that pricing is critical for restaurants.

Because people are very price sensitive when it comes to eating out.

Lower prices mean a broader appeal to customers, generally speaking.

But, you also have your margins to maintain to be profitable.

So, how do you overcome this challenge?

Simple. You use human psychology to make your prices seem way more affordable.

In designing your menus, start with an expensive and unusual dish.

For example: Black Truffle Pizza $37

Next, follow it with your most popular appetizers.

For example: Meatballs $9, Spagheti $11, Large Pizza $14

Because the reader saw the number $37, followed by the numbers $9, $11, and $14.

The 3 proceeding numbers look WAY more affordable than they would on their own.

This has been proven time and time again in various studies.

10: Convenience

People make more decisions to avoid paid than to gain pleasure.

And, if you can reduce the amount of pain points for customers in your experience…

You will immediately resonate.

So, how do you do that?

In one word: convenience. Convenience plays a huge role in people’s selection of restaurants.

Because when something is convenient, it is painless.

It’s no coincidence McDonald’s is the most popular restaurant in the world. They have mastered convenience. Everything about it: from price to service time to consistency is convenient.

A great example of this? Parking. In most places, parking can be extremely frustrating.

Either you have to shell out lots of cash for valet or fight aggressively for just a few parking spots. That sounds painful to me.

So, by making it clear to potential customers that you have an easy parking situation, and sharing what that is, you’ll basically have eliminated a potential pain point.


You’ve now got the top 10 factors that people use to pick which restaurant to go to.

As a restaurant owner, that is an incredibly valuable marketing resource.

Because you know now exactly how to communicate with people to get them to convert.

So tailor your marketing and your website and your social media to subtly address these factors.

And you may just see your sales skyrocket.


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Adam Guild is the CEO of Owner, a restaurant marketing platform that makes online growth easy for restaurants.


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