3 Unusual Ways Restaurants Are Pricing Menus

restaurant menu pricing

Posted: May. 04, 2018

Overhead. Food portions. Ingredient costs. Salaries. When the fun of putting together a menu ends, your attention moves to pricing, and these points become the focus. Food costs tend to make up 30-35% of pricing on menus, leaving enough room to pay for expenses and, most important, to make a profit.


It’s a pricing model that works so well, it’s been made famous by celebrity chef Robert Irvine from Restaurant Impossible. In three days, Chef Irvine renovates a restaurant, retrains the staff, and, using the three to one pricing rule, transforms a slumping restaurant into one that makes a profit. The basic formula is as follows:


Food Cost + Labor + Business Expenses including Profit = Menu Price


While dining establishments worldwide have found success with this standard price analysis, there are definitely outliers. Some restaurant and café owners consider good manners to be as important as ingredient shopping, and others employ a pricing model that guarantees reservations will show up.


These atypical models are unusual and innovative, and they’re working like a charm. Below are three new charging models for restaurants, which factor more than profitability into menu prices.


The Etiquette Pricing Model

Rude customers, be gone! These restaurants want nothing to do with you. It would seem that coffee lovers are crankier than the average customer because two coffee shops (that we know of) have developed a pricing model to encourage better manners when ordering.


One café is located in Roanoke, Virginia. Cups Coffee & Tea employee Austin Simms was so fed up with serving rude customers that one morning, he came to work and wrote out a new pricing system. The sign read:


“Small coffee”


“Small coffee, please”


“Hello, one small coffee, please”



Across the pond, in France, a restaurant in Nice also found it necessary to encourage diners to order coffees nicely. On a sign outside Le Petite Syrah, customers were shown a menu that requested the same ordering style as Cups’--only theirs was in French. Photos of both restaurants quickly went viral online.


While the owner of Cups remarked that no customer actually paid the stepped-for-kindness prices, it’s not certain if polite diners were rewarded for their manners in France, or if the rude ones charged nearly triple the price. What can be said for both is that the joke went over well among customers, and the majority did, indeed, become friendlier when ordering.


The It’s-Relative Pricing Model

Would you pay more for a dish at one location, when you know you can get the same dish at another location for cheaper? It’s a question that Sam Polk and David Foster, owners of Everytable, are finding out to answer to. So far, it’s yes.


In 2013, Polk founded a nonprofit called Groceryships to educate parents from low-income areas on better eating habits and the importance of getting nutritious foods. Common feedback was that no healthy, cheap fast-food options were available, and so McDonald’s became the best alternative.


Polk and Foster, two men with finance backgrounds, devised a strategy to combat this dining crisis: Offer a healthy menu of hot and cold dishes, with prices that are relative to other dining establishments in the area.


The first location of Everytable is in South Los Angeles, a neighborhood with a median income of $13,000 a year. Prices for food will not go over $4.


How is that possible?


Chefs will cook and package meals fresh into to-go containers every day in a central kitchen, making them available for immediate pickup. Since servers and seating space are not required, this model allows for two to three employees to run a location in a small storefront, and a greater percentage of the price to be redirected back into sourcing quality fresh ingredients.


To balance out some of the costs, a second location is opening in an affluent neighborhood close to downtown LA. The menu will feature prices between $7 and $10, based on the income of residents and prices from neighboring restaurants.


“Each store is designed to be individually profitable,” explained Foster in an interview with NPR’s Here & Now. “At $4 per meal in South LA, we're not making much money from each meal sold. But if we get enough people to come out — and we're already seeing great traction — it will actually be profitable. The location downtown will also be profitable. So together they're part of this company that's working to improve access. The higher-priced location will help fund the growth of new locations in both markets.”


The Ticketing Pricing Model

There is nothing more irritating to a restaurant than no-shows. Booking a reservation is similar to signing a contract, except that only the restaurant is harmed when the contract is broken. Larger restaurants, particularly chain restaurants, can afford the losses of no-shows, but smaller venues with restricted seating cannot. Even a table of four can make or break the success of a night for some restaurants, particularly if it’s reserved during peak hours.


To create some balance to the reservations agreement between diner and dining establishment, some restaurants have adopted a ticketing pricing model. Similar to how one purchases tickets to a movie, diners must first purchase their seats for dinner.


Nick Kokonas owns three restaurants in Chicago, and he first started ticketing customers at his high-end location Next for seats. Today, you will find that in order to make a reservation, you have to pay for a set dinner in advance, which can cost upwards of $3,000 depending on what is selected. Ever since Kokonas implemented the ticketing model, no-shows for reservations decreased to almost 1.5%.


Menu changes are easy to make with a restaurant mobile point-of-sale system.

Posted: May. 04, 2018 | Written By: Emma Alois

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