Taking the Pain out of Sushi Pricing


sushi pricessushi menuThe menu designer for an Austin restaurant, Roll On Sushi Diner, must be a Neuromarketing or Brainfluence reader. A while back, I identified sushi-style pricing as being the worst possible approach because each tiny bite is a separate pain point (see Painful Sushi and Other Pricing Blunders).

Pain Relief

Addressing the “sushi pricing” problem is difficult. An “all you can eat” price is likely ideal, and that’s exactly what seafood and sushi buffet restaurant Todai offers. Unfortunately, that’s only workable in some situations and for some products. Most sushi restaurants would have to limit their offerings or charge exorbitant prices to adopt that strategy.

Bundling is another way to avoid the drip-drip-drip effect of pricing by each item purchased, and also has the beneficial effect of concealing individual item prices making mental price comparisons difficult. $500 might seem like a lot of money for a better car sound system, but when it’s part of a $3,000 luxury package that includes leather seats, a moonroof, and several other items, who can tell? And I have indeed been in sushi restaurants that offer platters that contain a variety of sushi items for one price.

sushi menu detailSo, what clever strategy is employed by Roll On? They don’t use prices by the menu items – none at all! Rather, each item has a colored dot that corresponds to a price on a legend at the bottom of the menu. So, as you pick items from the menu, you aren’t constantly reminded of the cost of each one. A while back, I wrote about how some restaurants omit currency symbols on their prices to boost sales (see Pricing Lessons from Restaurants), but Roll On takes the prices completely away.

This doesn’t completely eliminate the pain caused by individually pricing small menu items, but it’s a creative way to reduce that pain. And, perhaps, sell more sushi!

Have you seen other restaurants or businesses take this approach? Do you think it works? Leave a comment with your thoughts!

  1. MadisonP says

    I’m curious about their choice of colors. Wondering what results are and how they might differ with the use of different colors. I wonder if “red” items are less popular than “green” ones. And whether sales would shift if the colors did. Or whether using colors completely unconnected to “go, wait, stop / yes maybe no” would yield a different result. Say, purple, teal and orange.

  2. Mike says

    @Madison – I had the same thought about the yellow and red “price points”… Perhaps icons could be tested against colors also.

  3. Roger Dooley says

    I wondered about that too, Madison! Agree that it seems like “go-caution-stop” as the prices go up.

    One other picky point is that for guys (it’s almost always a male thing) with red-green color blindness, those little dots might be hard to distinguish.


  4. Page Schorer says

    Most of these type sushi places do you color coding with no numeric prices showing. What you miss is seeing the sushi preparation show.

  5. James says

    Is it common for restaurants to alter some of their menus at any given time and use the ordering data from those patrons to empirically assess whether changes in a menu layout alters meal choice?

  6. Ashley Hoober says

    In Regina there are about just as many all you can eat Sushi restaurants as there are regular priced ones. We frequent the all you can eat ones much more but it seem as though the regular priced Sushi restaurants are the better ones. I never looked at it from a Neuromarketing perspective but now that I’ve read this article I’m going to be looking at every Sushi place! Ha!

    Cool read.

    1. Roger Dooley says

      “All you can eat” is definitely a brain-friendly pricing strategy, Ashley. Of course, it can’t be used everywhere, or if some products are so expensive that their consumption would turn into a loss.


      1. James says

        Is “all you can eat” widely considered brain-friendly? At the risk of looking like a snob, I often associate all you can eat food with poor quality food and will intentionally avoid restaurants that advertise in that manner.

  7. Vitor Ramirez says

    Nice post,
    Well, that depends, In Brazil we have many sorts of good “all you can eat” restaurant, including sushi restaurants. In many places the costumer can chose the “all you can eat fee” or a la carte, that’s also a good strategy. If a guy want to eat as much as he want he goes for the first choice, if his girlfriend just want a few sushis, ask a la carte…this is a brain-friendly customized strategy.

  8. Charles Sipe says

    There is a all-you-can-eat sushi place near my house. I haven’t gone there yet because the initial price is steep. I prefer the pay per plate, where you grab colored plates off a conveyer belt. I try to choose plates that are a good value, although sometimes I forget the price that each color represents and don’t experience price pain until I get the bill at the end.

  9. Jay Rosenberg says

    On colors, based on what I’ve read, red is the best color to represent food and shows very well on a white background. Interesting for some of us it’s also a stopper in the context of a traffic signal. Blue is the worst (think mold). Green is good for the “green” (organic) on our minds. And that peach color is kind of a non-player in terms of driving feeling. Overall, though IMHO it’s a very clever way to keep our minds on the food and minimally on the pricing.

    On pricing, I learned that some restaurants have an price anchoring tactic that deceives the customer. On the menu they will lead with the priciest item first like $33, then follow with one or two items that are dollars lower (like $29 and $27) so the lower-priced items appear to be better values. However, restautants know we think they are better values so while they look and “feel” cheaper the profit margins can be much much higher than on the priciest $33 item.
    Food for though, yes?

  10. Ann says

    Actually, this is not really new? The big Sushi chain YO! Sushi colour-codes their dishes, with each one colour it’s own price. When you’ve done eating, they just count the number of dishes, take colour into account, and get you your bill. 🙂

    Here’s how they look: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Yo!_Sushi_in_Manchester.jpg

    (A very good strategy, as you don’t need to really think about price or what you want when ordering. You just eat whatever you want / as much as you want, and only at the end are faced with the bill / costs. 🙂

  11. […] To know more about the concept of the pain of paying, check out Dan Ariely’s video on the topic http://danariely.com/2013/02/05/the-pain-of-paying/ or read this interesting article https://www.neurosciencemarketing.com/blog/articles/austin-sushi.htm […]

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