The economy is in the proverbial pooper and many are trying to cut back, but unfortunately, there's a reason you came back with a new hi-def TV and 10-gallons of discount mayonnaise last time you went to buy bread. The retailers have gotten very good at what they do.
We've already detailed the advanced advertising techniques being used to turn us into a society of shambling Baconator-craving zombies, but the manipulation certainly doesn't end once they've got you into the building...
There few things more easy and profitable (and fun) than scamming drunks, so it comes as no surprise that bars have their own list of ploys. Let's look at a few of the ways you're getting cockslapped along with your cocktail.
Less Socializing, More Drinking
Every time you use your mouth for frivolous non-drinking related activities like talking, you're costing the bar money. So they try their hardest to make sure your interactions remain at the basic head nodding and pointing out hot girls level. Music is pumped up to ear splitting level, making conversation impossible and lights are kept dim, partly to disguise how dirty most bars are, but also because we feel uncomfortable talking to someone we can't see clearly.
Your "Friend" the Bartender
There are many ways to cut down on the amount of precious alcohol actually getting into your glass. Taller, thinner shot glasses appear larger but actually contain less volume and, in fact, simply tilting the glass toward the customer slightly while pouring creates an optical illusion making you think you're getting more than you are. Measuring cups may have washers in the bottom ensuring you don't get a full double, and narrow pourers are used on bottles ensuring a 3-second pour gives you less booze than you might expect.
Oh, and in perhaps the most diabolical trick, fruity girl drinks may have the rim of the glass coated or straw filled with alcohol with little to none in the drink itself. Come on bartenders, if you're not there to get girls sloppy on oversized pink beverages what exactly are you there for?
An even bigger dickhead than you thought.
Of course, as the night wears on the need for such intricate schemes melts away. That's when bartenders start charging whatever the hell they want on a person-by-person basis, using the "would I like to bone them?" scale. Also, never offer to pay for your group's drinks as most bartenders assume anyone generous (and dense) enough to do such a thing won't mind them adding a dozen or so extra drinks to the tab.
How many times have you stood in your kitchen, packed with enough food to feed a starving African village for a day, and yet found you had nothing you actually wanted to eat? You're not alone; 60 to 70 percent of grocery purchases are unplanned, as supermarkets employ an endless array of tricks to ensure your fridge always has 10 different types of pickles in it, yet no milk.
Rats in a Maze
Supermarkets are carefully designed to be migraine-inducing labyrinths, with the essentials tucked away in the outer reaches of the store. Food's often shelved in seemingly random ways and stores reorganize their shelves every few months to keep you on your toes and send you scrambling again to find the Super Sugar Chocolate Breakfast Nuggets.
Supermarkets are also designed to keep movement as slow as possible, with displays stuck in the middle of aisles to create bottlenecks, strategically placed cart-slowing carpets and smaller floor tiles in expensive aisles (cart wheels click faster over them making you think you're traveling quicker and thus you subconsciously slow down). Oh, and we suspect something might be up with every shopping cart on the planet having at least one bad wheel.
Using Your Kids Against You
Walk into any supermarket and you'll be greeted at the door by the mash-up of smooth jazz and at least a dozen squalling children. Candy, cookies and all the diabestest cereals are usually grouped together in a single aisle feared by mothers everywhere, with the most expensive stuff all shelved at kiddie eye-level. Some supermarkets even offer kid "cooking" classes, which teach a lot more about brand recognition than cooking. Your kid might not know his ABCs, but at least he knows I Can't Believe It's Not Butter now has even more butter taste.
If your mother loved you, she'd buy you this.
"Deals" That are Anything But
Most sales or discounts actually cost you money as typically only the most expensive items are marked down (your 10-cents off five pounds of beluga caviar coupon might not be the hot bargain you think it is). Beware "Buy 5 for 5.99!" style offers, as frequently it's actually less expensive to buy the items individually.
Also your friendly neighborhood grocer isn't afraid to blatantly steal from you at the checkout, just ask the guy who, unlike most, decided to actually pay attention to the scanner at a supermarket where you got free items if you were overcharged. By the end of the year he took home $4,000 in free food.
Grab Bag of Douchebaggery
Supermarkets keep the lights too bright and Muzak overly loud because making you uncomfortable will keep you from making smart shopping decisions. Even those delicious cubes of cheese on toothpicks they give you are a scam (they don't care about selling you cheese, they just want to get your gastric juices flowing). We suggest next time you're hungry you save yourself a headache, grab a rock and see if you can't nail yourself a squirrel for dinner.
The best meat is in the tail.
But perhaps you prefer to leave the tiresome business of food preparation to others. Well don't think you're avoiding being screwed (and we're not just talking about the gallon of waiter and busboy fluids you've consumed due to your lousy tipping).
Eat and Get the Hell Out
There's nothing casual about "casual dining" chains. Their goal is to make you spend as much as possible, as quickly as possible, then clear you out to make room for next minivan full of jalapeno popper-hungry mouths.
To keep you from lingering, chairs are ass-numbingly uncomfortable, the restaurant is divided up into sections to prevent a social atmosphere, and as many tables as possible are "un-anchored" away from walls or partitions (we tend to feel uncomfortable sitting out in the open and won't stick around). Warm colors have been shown to make us eat more and move on quicker, as has fast paced music (as a rule don't eat anywhere with "Flight of the Bumblebee" playing over the speakers).
Getting Less for More
In troubled economic times everyone becomes united in a single goal: chiseling as much money as they can out of everyone else; this includes restaurants, who are using the current economy as an excuse to raise prices while simultaneously cutting down on portions.
Plates are subtly reduced in size and raised in the middle, concealing reduced portion sizes. Even silverware is taken into account, as restaurants will use lighter forks, making the weight of the food on it more noticeable, causing you to think your bites are more substantial. The quality of ingredients is also dropping, with food being aggressively recycled, even picked right out of the trash, and less expensive ingredients are substituted for what's printed on the menu (hey, it all tastes like chicken anyways).
Menu design has become an exact science with the most profitable items placed in the upper left-hand corner (the third dish down is always the most popular item on any menu). Menus today are basically porn for fat people, with the emphasis on big sexy pictures and over-elaborate descriptions, with prices obscured or spelled out (instead of using numbers) so you won't notice them until you've already become smitten with a particularly alluring chunk of meat.
The Dreaded Bill
Heart skip a beat when the bill arrived? Could be they were charging for those obligatory breadsticks, or pouring you bottled water instead of tap. They may have automatically included a 12 - 15% tip "for your convenience" which often leads to accidental double-tipping. Though it may be worth it if it prevents the waiter from putting his dick in your milkshake next time.
Ah the mall, the Mecca of North American culture. What makes it, and its shops, so enticing that people will refuse to stop shopping for anything, even at the risk of being consumed by flames?
"We just got a shipment of half-a-dozen Wiis in, now if you could all line up in an orderly fashion..."
Rats in a Maze Part 2
Like the supermarket, malls aren't actually designed for convenience, but to force you to do as much walking past as many storefronts as possible. This is why the up escalator is often on the opposite end of the floor from the down escalator.
Stores appealing to certain demographics are spread around the mall; you manly men will never find the beef jerky store next to the shiny new electronics store, nor will nerds ever have their dreams of a Taco Bell next to the Gamestop realized. On the plus side this extra walking is probably the best exercise most Americans get these days.
Malls are also filled with mirrors, which slow us down then make us feel like shit since we're all vain, self-loathing bastards at heart. That "oh God, I look terrible" moment has sent more than a few people scurrying into shops for new clothes.
Also, when you first enter the mall just keep moving for the first hundred feet or so. There are two phases to shopping, deliberation and buying, and they've found that buying even a minor item will break us out of the deliberation mindset and get us spending freely, thus chintzy impulse items are kept near the entrance. That trip to the dollar store may be the foreplay leading to a spending orgy that ends in you tying a cashmere sofa to the roof of your car.
She actually just came in to use the bathroom.
Little Retail Shop of Horror
Things don't get better once you enter the stores themselves. First off, go left when you enter the store. Research has shown that most people go right, and thus the items most profitable to the store are on the right, with the best bargains hidden off to the left.
A lot of "deals," especially around the holidays, are blatant bait-and-switches. A low price is advertised for a particular item, often one that they only have three of in stock. Salespeople can then "upsell" you on another replacement item... that costs more.
They also use the "disrupt-then-reframe" sales technique, hitting you with sales pitches so complicated they may as well be speaking a combination of Pig Latin and Swahili, then reframing it in an over-simplified way that makes the "right" buying decision seem obvious ("Look, all I'm trying to say is that this system is like a Cadillac, where the cheaper one in the window is like feeding your children hobo turds.").
Electronics salesmen are masters of this, but then pretty much everything they say is a constant stream of verbal diarrhea.
Leading us by the Nose
Traditionally overlooked (except by uncles with fingers that chronically require pulling) our sense of smell is being preyed on by retailers with increasing frequency. Notice how you can smell the wonderful toasted coffee beans a good two hundred feet from the actual coffee shop?
Smells are impossible to escape or ignore, and scent marketing has been shown to increase buying by up to 300 percent. As a result most stores now have their own carefully researched scents.
Scents have even been shown to increase gambling by up to 45 percent, speaking of which...
Casinos are the kings of making ordinary people spend like MC Hammer at the billowy silk pants store. They kind of have to be, as they don't actually offer any, you know, goods or services for your money. So how do Casinos get you to blow the kids' college fund when clearly the hookers out front offer a far better value for your dollar?
Outside World? What Outside World?
Sunlight, fresh air, remembering the fact that you have a house payment to make this month; these are the enemies of the big casinos. Most have few windows and no clocks, and attempt to artificially simulate a daytime or outside environment, creating a world where time has no meaning.
The interior of The Venetian in Las Vegas could be mistaken for Venice until you notice there's no sewage floating in the water.
Some even block cell phones; tearful calls from your kids asking where you've gone and why you're not at their birthday party can really kill your mojo.
The Gambling Trance
There's a specific fast-paced rhythm to everything that happens in a casino, making it difficult to break from the money-hemorrhaging haze (especially when you're half-wasted on free drinks). Oh, and there's a reason every casino you hit in Vegas is packed with hot women, and it's not your raw animal magnetism.
Casino managers don't let any of your senses go neglected. Music is soothing and loops frequently contributing to your trance and loud ugly carpets and low hanging canopies keep your eyes focused on the one-armed bandits in front of you. Casinos pump up the oxygen levels to keep you alert and some have even been accused of spreading pheromones through the ventilation system (possibly explaining why people still get way too damn excited over Wayne Newton).
You Can Beat the Casinos. Really! You Can!
There's no way to beat the casinos that won't land you in jail or under a bright light in a backroom with a broken hand, but casinos love to make us think we can.
Seconds after this photo, he filed for bankruptcy.
Why else would Vegas fund and stage glamorous showings for movies like 21, a film built on the premise that your "A" in math class could allow you to legally scam casinos out of millions while having sex with Kate Bosworth?
The floor is filled with the sweet (and these days, usually artificial) sound of jangling coins and "loose" machines are placed in high visibility areas to give the impression payoffs are more frequent than they are. Slot machines are also designed to deal out a high number of "near misses" with, for instance, the first two reels set to land on the "Jackpot" far more often than the third reel, dealing you more false hope than your high school girlfriend.
Finally, don't be fooled by posted payout percentages. A machine might say it pays out 97 percent of the time, which sounds low-risk, but that's a hypothetical number based on an infinite number of spins. Spin 10 times and you may lose nine, spin 100 and you may lose 50; you would have to pull that handle a massive number of times for it to finally even out at that 97 percent (a theory being put to the test by blue-haired slot jockeys nationwide).
So now that you know what kind of dickery our economy is based on, get out there and hold your head high knowing every time you're screwed over you're doing your part to fight the recession. Maybe, if we're all just gullible enough, we can get through this thing.