Nothing Ever Lasts

In Lebanon, the only thing permanent in price is a box of Chiclets. Everything else is regularly subject to a price hike, and that is especially evident at restaurants. I understand that inflation is to blame, and the cost of living in Lebanon does go up every week. But I can't help cringing at the tactics restaurants use to introduce their elevated prices.

Take Roadster diner, for example, a Lebanese chain adored by all as if it were a national landmark. At the start of the year, Roadster overhauled its menu--well, it introduced some new items and parted with others--publishing a new menu but retaining the same price scheme. Roadster slyly allowed for an adjustment period during which customers learned to embrace the new food offerings, and once they had, WHAM! It reprinted the same new menu, this time with subtle markups here and there. An avid Roadster fan wouldn't even notice--why bother perusing the menu when you've memorized it--until his bill arrived. And even then, the customer base is so loyal that pausing to look over the new prices is out of the question.

I've seen the same thing happen at Oceanus, a reference in fresh seafood and sushi. After issuing a new menu to coincide with the opening of its new branch in Maameltein, Oceanus pushed up its prices: for example, the "U and I" combo platter, featuring 28 sushi bites, is now 54,000LL ($36), up from 48,000LL ($32). Perhaps this is to help offset the costs of its latest seaside outlet.

Sweet Tea, the wildly successful salon de thé and brainchild of Michelin-starred Yannick Alleno, features Parisian specialty desserts in the heart of Beirut Souks. When it first opened its doors, Sweet Tea was charging between 7,000LL and 10,000LL (about $5-$7) per pastry and 9,000LL ($6) per kettle of tea. Months later, it reprinted its menu, cunningly keeping the tea at 9,000LL, because it knew customers would have it seared in their memory--why else come to a tea salon? But it did shift the price range of gateaux to about 10,000LL - 13,000 LL (about $7-$9). No doubt Sweet Tea management relied on the fact that customers wouldn't precisely remember the price range of its pastries, so it was free to adjust as long as it held constant the price of tea. And succeed they did, because they still draw a crowd in the afternoons.

Call it good marketing or maybe slick strategy. I still can't help but feel I'm somehow being duped!

Comments

  1. The menu reprints always bother me, too (here in the US), especially when the restaurant does it's best to divert your attention to new specials (for example, Taco Bell increased their prices a while back, but did it under the guise of introducing a new "Value Menu"... with items that were more expensive than before!). However, it also makes me wonder, is there a way to introduce price increases WITHOUT making customers feel duped or negatively surprised?

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  2. Sarah, great question you raise. I don't think I'd mind (so much) a new menu timed simultaneously with slightly inflated prices. But to issue a new menu with a few altered items, and then reissue that same new menu months later with the markups--who are they fooling?!

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