Why do consumer brands put coupons in the newspaper? To get trial from new customers who hopefully will become regular buyers. They know that many shoppers will buy just to get the discounts, and many of those who use the coupons would have bought anyway, but potential new customers are so valuable the brands are willing to put up with the negatives.
Why do restaurants participate in promotions like the just-concluded Saratoga County Winter Restaurant Week 2014, in my overserved, touristy corner of Upstate New York? It should be for the same reason. Most diners are conservative in their restaurant choices; once they find a place that is comfortable, that serves food they like at the right price, that their dining companions will accept, they’re likely to return again and again. So it should be worth some inefficiency to attract these new customers, even if you know others (including your regular customers) are going to take advantage of the savings.
This week I took advantage of one dinner ($30) and four lunches ($10 each) as well as passing up a number of other menus which didn’t look as attractive. Some places seemed to be doing lip service to the concept, offering a soup and half a sandwich for $10, or a salad and a tapa for $10, which didn’t sound like a very appealing lunch. A couple of places didn’t bother to post their menus, which of course defeats the whole purpose.
Of the meals I tried, I was happy to finally experience the Korean taco at Mingle but discounting it from $11 to $10 to hit the price point didn’t make it feel special. Mingle and a couple of other places were also serving items not on the regular menu, maybe to hit the price point; don’t you want customers to taste the food they can buy every day? Dominic Colose’s Wine Bar served a well-conceived dinner for $30 that not only hung together but gave you an idea of the chef’s philosophy: here’s what I can do for $30. I like that.
My best meal, and best value, was lunch at Maestro’s at the Van Dam where I had the crab cake (excellent, and normally $14), the house salad (showing they take care with sides, and normally $6) and a slice of chocolate cake (nothing special) for $10 total. I had been eager to try this place since the new chef arrived and now that I have, I’ll be back. That’s how it’s supposed to work.
It’s also worth noting that the Wine Bar and Maestro’s were packed while I was there. (Some of the other places were not.) So your food cost may be up, but you’re getting more bang for the buck on the fixed costs of keeping the doors open. Plus, when they see what a vibrant, popular house you run, those new customers are more likely to want to come back.
A few restaurant owners have grumbled on social media about how Restaurant Weeks attract low end bargain hunters, and a few local foodies have complained on their own blogs about the lack of good choices. Think of the coupon analogy, put out some real values on your best product, and you will be rewarded in the long run.