Q: Our restaurant has reasonable lunch sales, but some online reviewers complain that we’re expensive. What is the best way of changing the guests’ perception to improve lunch traffic?
A: Your decision to address your guests’ input is wise. Be encouraged the guest took the time to complain; now you can make necessary changes. What the consumer is expressing is a lack of consistency between pricing and the value perceived by the guest.

Rarely will one complain about price if the value matches what the guest believes the product is worth. Take the power of a brand. In a supermarket, you’ll find one product next to another with identical ingredients often made by the same company. One is a “private label” the other is a trusted consumer products brand. Consumers have gotten wiser, but most still choose a brand over a private label more often because the perceived value is higher though the product is exactly the same. What can be borrowed from retailers is the secret of differentiation in the mind of the consumer. We buy brands because we trust them and they provide a positive assurance to meet our need or want. In the restaurant equation, we buy because we want to “feel” a certain way: satisfied, treated, spoiled, full, etc., while having our needs met. Your menus a direct line of generating that emotion and delivering a message of value. Remember, value has more to do with perception than price, and the best way to improve the price/value perception is to layer the pricing on your menu.

Layering the pricing on a menu had dramatic results. In this example of successful layering at a Seattle restaurant, lunch sales are increase by double digits and have been since addressing the price/value perception issue when the economy crashed. The idea is to layer pricing from bottom to top and provide different price choices. This allows the consumer the choice of a quick, tasty, inexpensive lunch or lingering over a beer and some baby back ribs. When executed correctly, price choice is in the hands of the guest. This allows the guest to choose to spend less or more, while broadening the appeal to more consumers. Usually when parties dine together, the person with the least amount of money leads the decision. providing consumers a place where each person can choose to spend more or less is the goal. The approach taken in this restaurant was to allow the consumer to assign value to the menu. The restaurant is in downtown Seattle, so be sure to adjust pricing appropriately to your market. Lunch entree prices range from $8.95 for sushi to $18.95 for a steak salad.

Key number one:
Provide extra value with an additional offering, not discounting — Notice that the Specials section provides smaller portion sizes, but more choice for the guest. Chosen separately at full portion and price, the most expensive combination is $18.90, making the special nearly $10.00 cheaper in the mind of the consumer.

Key number two: Play to the strengths of the restaurant – variety – There are 36 combinations in all. This allows the consumer options at a price point that can be used more than once per week.

Key number three: Make production fast – speed kills competition and lack of speed kills business.

Key number four: Improve the rest of the menu. While the menu was repositioned to provide lower price points, the food quality of the rest of the menu was improved to deliver extra “crave” by dialing up flavor profiles, choosing new and interesting ingredients and improving presentation. Additionally, a new non-alcoholic drink menu was implemented to drive incremental sales.

the irony is that while the pricing was reduced to fit the consumer’s new budget, check average actually increased and so did lunch visit frequency. With price layering, the guest makes the choice to spend what he/she finds reasonable, and that will quiet the critics.

For more information on improving profitability and driving performance, contact AMP Services at rbraa@ampservices.com. Rick Braa is the co-founder of AMP Services, an accounting and consulting firm specializing in helping companies grow profitability.