A recent gizmodo article recently dispelled a widely held myth as to how people read menus. According to restaurant science, "When you pick up a menu, your gaze instantly hits the right-hand side, just a little above the center. From there, you'll head up to the top-right corner, then across to the top-left. Next you'll read down the entire left-hand side, and finish by filling the gaps that are left at the bottom-right and the middle." Restaurants apparently design their menus with this in mind, putting choice items in the "sweet-spot."
According to recent research done by Sybil Yang at San Francisco State University, this is not the case; people read menus sequentially like a book and there is in fact no sweet-spot. While I'm not sure as to the veracity of her findings (it could be argued that subjects' actions were skewed by the fact that subjects were monitored by retinal scanners), it is always fun to find out the reasoning behind the design of things as mundane as a restaurant menu, and how much thought is put into the placement of items on it. It is also important to note that such studies are being done--and the results used--by marketers to better predict human behavior, ever hoping to influence (manipulate) your choices in their favor. The stacking of items on grocery store shelves is yet another example.
As consumers that encounter such tactics at various places of consumption, it is important to recognize these attempts at influence. While we may not be able to completely thwart them, knowing that these tactics are being used is an enormous first step (As GI Joe taught us, "knowing is half the battle"). In the war that is the marketplace we must arm ourselves with information, because our adversaries most definitely are.