10 Ways Fast-Food Chains Sneakily Manipulate You Into Buying More

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Did you realise that most fast-food restaurants have red settings? Have you ever wondered why the food you receive is not always piping hot, although you see them being cooked in front of you?

Heck, even some of their logos are red.

What if I told you that this isn’t a coincidence, but a deliberate act to make you eat more and buy more?

Well, here are 10 ways that fast food restaurants use to trick you into buying more. Keep reading, and you might just save hundreds of dollars on fast food every year.

That is, if you even spend that much on fried food. The Health Promotion Board wants to know your location.

If you prefer to see real fast food instead, here’s a video we’ve done for this topic:

Big Posters Make You Want To Eat…Even If You Don’t Want To Eat

You’d have noticed something: whenever you walk past a fast-food restaurant, you’d see big posters and images of their food, be it items old or new.

They’re not there to tell you what they sell: you know what they sell since you were a kid. Who needs reminders that McDonald’s sold McSpicies anyway? Our digestive systems get a reminder every morning after eating one of those.

Instead, they’re there to tell your mind, “Eh, go inside and buy something to eat even if you don’t feel like eating.”

This is also why the menu is filled with lots of images: studies have shown that displaying images of food will make you more eager to try them, even if you are already full.

Though why you’d walk into a McDonald’s to see the menu if you are already full remains a question.

Meals Are Much Cheaper Than A La Carte Options

Let’s try an example.

Suppose you want to order McDelivery. A Buttermilk Crispy Chicken costs $8.40 a la carte; paired with medium fries for $3.75 and a medium coke for $3.25, you would have to pay $15.40 for the Extra Value Meal they sell you for $9.65.

Obviously, this means that a la carte sides are hopelessly overpriced.

But it also means you’d be tempted to spend extra for the meal, since it costs so little in addition anyway. If you’d otherwise only order the burger, well, congrats: the Extra Value Meal succeeded in coaxing more money from you.


It works the same way for upsizing meals: since it costs less than a dollar for an upgrade that would otherwise cost you… more than that, there is an obvious incentive to upsize.

Oops, you just spent more.

Cheese, Cheese, Cheap Way To Earn Profits

Everyone’s adding cheese to their foods nowadays. We have the KFC cheesy fries, the obligatory slice of cheese in McDonald’s burgers, and the Burger King Cheesy BBQ burgers that looked more special than they tasted.

Why cheese?

Well, for a start, we love cheese, and fast food chains can earn more when they add cheese to an item for a hefty premium. The dollop of cheese and mayonnaise in KFC cheesy fries costs $1.40 more.

It’s really good though… but that’s the point.

So you go to social media and it appears that everyone is agreeing with your views. Watch this video to the end and you’d realise that there’s a disturbing reason behind this:

But the affair between cheese and fast foods has a darker side. Fast food outlets in the United States have been known to partner with dairy businesses, most notably Dairy Management Inc., to intentionally include additional cheese in their products and generate profits for both parties.

To put it in their words, “you sell more cheeseburgers, we sell more cheese”, according to The Hill.

They even shared advertising funds.


Why Are The Stores Always Red?

Well, red grabs your attention. So red is effective in luring people into the restaurant.

But here’s the main reason: It also creates a sense of urgency. After all, what colour do you associate with words like “deadline”? What colour causes your heart rate to increase? And what colour makes you nervous?


And because of that, you’d subconsciously feel a sense of urgency while in the restaurant, and therefore eat faster.

But why do fast-food chains want you to eat faster? Do they want to serve more customers?


No. It’s more insidious than that.

Why Fast Food Wants You To Eat Faster (because you won’t feel full in the first 20 mins)

Here’s a pro-tip: if you want to trick yourself to think that you’re full, just eat slowly

Your brain and your stomach are like a Pentium 2 computer: they’re as slow as the queues in bubble tea shops. During the first 20 minutes of your meal, even if you’re full, your mind won’t know, and you’ll continue to eat more.

But after 20 minutes, your stomach will start to complain to your mind, and you’ll stop eating.

Fast-food chains want you to eat as much as possible in the first 20 minutes so they’ll earn more as you’ll buy more the next time thinking it won’t make you full.


This is also why your food never comes piping hot: if it’s hot, you’ll spend more than 20 minutes for your meal.

So yes: this is also the reason why our parents think that “fast food won’t make us full”: it’s because they’re conditioned to order a lot more so we’ll feel full—after 20 minutes

Mind games at their best.

Limited Time Items A Trick

Nasi Lemak Burger. Salted Egg Chicken. Bubble tea egg tarts.

And what’s this Durian Mochi thing KFC is on about?


Whether it’s Singapore or Malaysia or Mars, fast-food chains like to come out with time-limited items, also known as Limited Time Offer, or LTO, items that disappear after some time. We never know when exactly.

LTO items are a strategy widely used not only in the fast foods industry, but also across food businesses as a whole, to make more profits.

Why does it work? FOMO: fear of missing out.

After all, no one would bat an eye at a regular menu, but when you’ve an LTO item that’ll be gone next month, you’d head down to try it even if reviews online… aren’t very positive. Or if the idea defies imagination.

Bubble tea pizza? Seriously?


Usually, LTOs ride on the hype of real-life events, like nasi lemak burgers to celebrate Singapore on National Day. Malaysia isn’t too happy about that.

The item builds attractiveness by appealing to the hot topics of the day and by leveraging people’s urgency to try it before it’s gone. A terribly obvious example is McDonald’s promotion drive of their Spicy McNuggets: instead of pasting “Goodbye, My Love” posters everywhere, why not just make more?

Because the appeal of a limited-time item is important to get people into the restaurant. And then…

And So Is Free Food

…Why would there be free food or discount coupons?

In recent years, fast-food chains have come out with apps that allow you to redeem free items from the restaurant.


It’s actually a trick (duh).

With that, you’d go to the restaurants, and granted that there would be some people who’d just grab the free item without buying anything, most will buy something else—something more expensive.

Not to mention that most of the time, the deals come only with an additional purchase.

The whole idea is that once you’re there, lots of other factors will make you spend more money.

I mean, remember the colour of the restaurant? The big images everywhere?


Moreover, it’s affordable…right?

*Fast-food executives count cash in the background*

Charm Pricing

Fine, I concede; fast food photos are indeed pretty charming. I get hungry just looking at them. (Remember our first point?)

But this is not what charm pricing is about. Instead, it refers to a pricing strategy where, simply put, an item that cost $6 will be priced at $5.90. Because we usually emphasise the leftmost number, we’ll believe it costs $5 when the price is a little different from $6.

Of course, many retailers use this tactic, but fast-food chains use it like geniuses.


Remember the upsized meals mentioned earlier?

The usual price is $6.50, and the upsized price is $6.90. Yep, you get the idea.

So when a person just wants to buy a $5 burger, they’re tricked into spending $7 instead. Some senior executive’s fundraising campaign for his second yacht thanks you.

They Target The Children

Protect your children from their latest enemies—Ronald McDonald and Colonel Sanders.

Jokes aside, they do seem to spend a fair bit of effort on children. They give out toys for meals, design cute mascots for their brands, and even allow kids to have birthday parties on their premises.



You see, if you start liking some foods when you are young, you are more likely to continue craving them when you grow up. By inundating a child’s life with fast food, chains try to “brainwash” them to develop a persistent craving for the food.

And that translates to loyal customers.


And Children Bring The Adults

Who can reject a child’s request?


And who can reject a child’s request of bringing them to their favourite multinational fast-food corporation that probably spent hundreds of thousands to devise marketing strategies towards kids?

If you’ve wondered why fast-food restaurants advertise for foods that aren’t new anymore, this is the answer.

When a child sees a fast-food poster, they are more likely to want fast foods (see point 1), and ask (or cry, or beg) that they be taken to a fast-food chain.

Where the restaurant gets to pocket cash from the whole family, rather than a lonely adult customer. What a good deal.

So… Corporations Bad?

Everything in this article sounds like fast-food chains are evil corporations trying to control our minds.

To be fair, they kind of are. And so are all kinds of businesses, as the more cynical among us would have declared.

After all, marketing tricks are all around us: supermarkets sell expensive items like TVs, and even place them near the entrance, not because they profit handsomely from them, but because this helps to alter our buying habits for groceries.

Even this article placed points people are less likely to know at the bottom, to trick you into reading on.

Unfortunately, as long as what they do is legal, there isn’t much we can do about it. Except starting a communist revolution. Or tiptoeing around the marketing traps like landmines.

Or just forget what we said and buy that Extra Value Meal. What’s a burger without fries anyway?

Featured Image: TotallyBlond / Shutterstock.com

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