Why 30% of Americans Experience “Menu Anxiety”

The struggle is real for the 30% of Americans who can’t order off a menu without feeling a deep angst known as “menu anxiety.” Their apprehension is so great that they may even opt out of any situation where they suspect they will be confronted with a printed list of food items. Those most likely to experience menu paralysis are those aged 18-43. While menu anxiety is not an actual diagnosis, it's still a very real problem for many people who admit they fear eating out. Posting on social media, many who battle menu angst say the pull up a restaurant's online menu and obsessively review it before they can work up the courage to accept an invitation to dinner. For some, it’s having too many choices, while others find it difficult to understand because of unfamiliar ingredients or confusing descriptions. Then there’s the pressure to make the “right” choice, either to impress fellow diners or to avoid regretting their selection later. Others experience real fear over hidden ingredients that might trigger food allergies or go against dietary restrictions. Research holds a few tips to help patients manage menu anxiety: 

  • • Take your time. Remember, there’s no real deadline for making a decision. 
  • • Narrow down your options by deciding on a category or type of dish you’re in the mood for. 
  • • Consider asking the server for recommendations. 
  • • Pick from specials to minimize the number of options. 
  • • Remind yourself that it’s just a meal, not a major life decision. 
  • • Remember that it’s okay to make a less-than-perfect choice. 

The best advice is to try to think of the experience as fodder for conversation or promoting social interactions that are positive. Rather than stressing over the meal you’re going to have, focus on the fact that you’re going out to dinner with people you like and have a good time with.