Dessert Pricing – Sugar Shock?

Maybe you read Sugar Shock!How Sweets and Simple Carbs Can Derail Your Life– and How You Can Get Back on Track by Connie Bennett and Stephen Sinatra, published nearly three years ago?

This isn’t another health blog. I’m just trying to find an explanation for a common dessert pricing practice, and so far I have none. So, I was thinking that when chefs, managers or owners price the desserts for their menus, maybe they do so after tasting them, all of them, and they’re suffering from “sugar shock”, unable to think clearly. I’m open to other explanations.

Let me try an analogy. You walk into a busy, nice looking restaurant, you’re seated promptly and an open menu is expertly handed to you, along with a cocktail list. You notice that every wine offered by the glass, and there are several, is the same price. Hmmnnn. Then you look at the dinner menu and are surprised to discover that every appetizer is the same price. Unusual, but OK. Your biggest surprise occurs when you discover that every entrée is the same price. What’s up with that?

Is this a good idea? An amazing new strategy for…higher check? Ensuring return visits? Creating buzz (well, maybe)?

But in fact, we don’t price all of our items the same. Why not, then? The simple answer, thank you Ockham, may be that uniformity in pricing doesn’t meet the needs of the customer.

Not every customer wants the same thing. Even “like” customers may order differently depending on the occasion (celebration, expense account business meal, dinner with the family to name a few occasions). Some customers may be seeking value. Some may restrict themselves to entrees that are naturally lower in cost (e.g. vegetarians). Others may wish to order something very expensive. Or, their dining preferences lean toward high-end beef or lobster. How do restaurateurs react to this myriad of occasions, needs and preferences? Again, simplicity: a variety of offerings accompanied by a range of prices. Often, a wide range.

Or, put another way: how do I react if the Vegetarian Plate, the Chicken Entrée, the 12-ounce Filet Mignon and the Broiled Lobster Tails are all the same price? Even prix fixe menus often provide an opportunity to “trade up”.

So, let’s go back to sugar shock: why are desserts often all the same price? Which is the finest dessert? Which has the finest ingredients? Which is the best value?

This isn’t about food cost, it’s about profit. And repeat business. Why not offer a dessert so special, so remarkable that it carries a higher price? Chances are, you already do so, without charging the price the item commands. Why not offer a value item, perhaps smaller in portion than the other desserts?
You price your menu strategically, thoughtfully. Don’t stop the process before you get to the dessert menu.

Print Friendly

Post to Twitter

Are Your Guests Snacking While You’re Offering “Lunch” & “Dinner”?

Here’s a question for hotel F&B’s: am I offering services today that are significantly different from the standard hotel offerings on the day I was born? A restaurant with table service? Breakfast, lunch, dinner, maybe Sunday Brunch? A bar with bartender? Room service? A “gift” shop? No, these were around.

There is nothing wrong, per se, with these venerable services. And you’ve seen innovations like minibars, coffee kiosks, delis and mini-QSR’s in some hotels, especially larger hotels. But what if consumer habits have changed, and your services haven’t?

Listen up: according to a recent NPD study, as reported by Fern Glazer in Nation’s Restaurant News, the line between dayparts is beginning to blur, snack related visits now account for nearly 25% of QSR traffic, and this “discretionary meal occasion is not one operators can afford to ignore”.

Perhaps you’ll think of this as QSR data that doesn’t apply to hotel F&B, but really it’s about consumer behavior – consumers snacking when and where they can – in this case where snacking is encouraged. And by “snacks” I don’t mean peanuts or chips. In our hotel world, we know this as the growing popularity of tapas or “small plates”. And sliders. Skewers. Personal Pizza.

Listen up, Part II: this isn’t about dollar meals; in fact, in this same study “value” ranked fifth or sixth among the many reasons consumers snack.

Let’s face it – the traditional hotel restaurant approach is anti-snack. The lunch buffet is a primary anti-snacker weapon, followed closely by a menu which often promotes the same salad-entrée meals from our dinner menu, for a reduced price. Then, to reinforce the strategy, should any snackers try to get past our standard snacking barriers, we close the restaurant during prime snack time – the afternoon. At dinner, we close as early as possible, in case late-night snackers have infiltrated our guest rooms.

Does this mean that our restaurants, menus and hours of operation should become snack oriented? Not necessarily. Here are some other approaches:

  1. Your bar should be snackers central. Test this 4-pronged strategy: a) open the bar during lunch and dinner and during snacking hours (between lunch and dinner, after dinner). b) Ensure that decent snack options abound c) implement systems and procedures that make it easy for the bar team to sell food, and d) provide easy-to-spot visual cues for the customer: posters and table-top menus, for example. E-marketing if you cater to local customers.
  2. Re-evaluate your gift shop. Who runs it? Can you take it back? Consider, if its yours, or could be – what if it were an F&B  operation specializing in snacks (you can still sell gifts and other retail)?
  3. No gift shop? Test the waters with a strategically placed kiosk.
  4. Is your room service menu “snack-friendly”? Perhaps you’d rather not risk cannibalizing entrees, losing that $32 steak sale. Or maybe a prominent, dedicated “snacks” page (not buried in the “All Day Dining” section) would promote more sales? Print a new page and test it.

Don’t forget to measure any test carefully. Now, go enjoy a snack.

Print Friendly

Post to Twitter

Cocktail Menu Insanity

My wife and I enter an upscale restaurant. The door is opened for us, or not, and we’re greeted  warmly as we enter. Perfect. At the hostess stand (it could be a host, of course) we are again welcomed and asked if we have reserved a table. We have not. However a table will be made available to us and although the hostess does not know us, she is happy to see us, and we are delighted to have made her happy. Perfect. The hostess gathers the appropriate menus, points at something on the screen, huddles briefly with others gathered around the stand,  makes eye contact with us again, and explains that “Elaine will seat us”. (Of course, it is not always Elaine, it could be any name but Elaine seems suitable for illustrative purposes.) Perfect.

This is going rather well, don’t you think?

Once seated, we are handed two menus, one for each of us. Perfect. Often we are also handed a single wine list, should we wish to peruse the contents of the restaurant’s cellar (or not). Perfect. Now comes the cocktail list. Possibly including popular beers and wines by the glass, and other drink specials. Or not. And herein lies the insanity.

We are handed just one cocktail list. Note – there are still two of us at the table. Not Perfect.

Let’s recap. What is the most profitable incremental sale the restaurant can make? (Hint: beverages.) What is the first thing the restaurant would like us to order? (Hint: still thinking, “beverages”). What is the first thing the server will ask us. (OK,  after “tap” or “bottled” water.) That’s right – what is our beverage order?

But wait, there are two of us. And we have one beverage list. We are sitting across from each other and cannot both read it at the same time. (I know what you’re thinking and of course we prefer side by side but since that seating preference requires a four-top, our wish is not always granted.) We both like to scrutinize the list and so our ordering is delayed, or we feel rushed and therefore do not allow our selections to be influenced by the drinks’ enchanting descriptions. Or both.

What are the reasons that two persons get two menus, two sets of plates and silverware, two napkins, two chairs, etc. – but just one cocktail menu? Maybe history, or old habits? Because the cocktail menu is embedded in the 20-page 7-pound leather-bound and logo-embossed wine list, and these are expensive to reproduce? Whatever. Let’s get with the program. It’s nearly 2010. Each adult is entitled to their own menu now.

Print Friendly

Post to Twitter