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Forcing a Higher Check Average


Holly Moore
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I think I first noticed it when many restaurants no longer offered a cup of soup. Just a bowl. Brings in another dollar or more if customers wanting soup are forced to order a bowl.

Same with hamburgers. Used to be they came on traditional size hamburger buns with 4 ounce patties. If I wanted eight ounces of beef I could order two burgers or double patties. Now burgers are typically eight ounces or more. Brings in another $3 or $4 when customers are forced to order eight ounce burgers.

It may be that is what customers have been conditioned to expect - the bigger the burger, the better the burger. But few grill people can cook an eight ounce burger medium rare. Or to rush things along, because the burgers take so damn long to cook, the grill guy uses his spatula to press the burger to the grill, squeezing out any remaining juice. Eight ounce burgers more often than not are a travesty - slow out of the kitchen unless pre-grilled, cooked medium well when ordered rare, served on a bun that falls apart in one's hands, with a pile of glop on top that oozes out of the bun and onto one's shirt.

Back to the subject at hand. The diet coke I order to compensate for the burger and fries. Used to be I could order and pay for the size I want. Now it's free refills. The soda costs a buck more, but the refills are free.

Since when do desserts and apps each cost 2/3rd the price of entrees? Since neighborhood restaurants figured out they could get away with it. Keep the entree cost low and make up for it with apps and dessert pricing.

Once upon a time I could order my dessert a la mode if I wanted ice cream. Pay an extra buck or two for ice cream. Nowadays, no choice. Desserts are tasting plates - two desserts and ice cream. Maybe a cookie or two. Adds a couple of bucks or more to the dessert cost, want it or not.

Want just a small salad before dinner at a small price - just to take away the guilt of not having salad? Out of luck. Salad may be small but so is the value. Assuaging salad guilt doesn't come cheap - $5, $6 or more.

I appreciate that restaurants need to get a return on seats and boosting the average check (selling more to the customers a restaurant already has) is the easiest way to make that happen. But at some point the choice to participate has been taken away from the customer. I am already up-sold the second I look at a menu.

Edited by Holly Moore (log)

Holly Moore

"I eat, therefore I am."

HollyEats.Com

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Back to the subject at hand.  The diet coke I order to compensate for the burger and fries.  Used to be I could order and pay for the size I want.  Now it's free refills.  The soda costs a buck more, but the refills are free.

Since when do desserts and apps each cost 2/3rd the price of entrees?  Since neighborhood restaurants figured out they could get away with it.  Keep the entree cost low and make up for it with apps and dessert pricing.

Now, see, the Coke thing doesn't really bother me, because at least in this area, and in practically every place I've gone in the U.S., free refills are the norm on most non-alcoholic beverages. The minor exception might be milk, but any fountain beverage, hot or cold tea, coffee, etc. have been bottomless for a *long* time now...in excess of 20 years. I'm pretty sure that this whole thing started with Taco Bell on the fountain drink thing, but I appreciate being able to get as much of such a beverage as I'd like. I'll give you that the price of said drink has been raised to a pretty absurd degree over the years, but I still enjoy bottomless.

However, on the whole I'm generally with you, and on the dessert and appetizer thing I am 100%, totally, completely, and absolutely in agreement with you. I ate a piece of house-made cake at one of my favorite places this past week, and it was all of $2.95. To me, *that's* the way a dessert should be priced: affordably, and with the intent of ending the meal correctly, on a high note. It worked, in this case, but when the dessert is $6 or $7, unless I'm talking about a true high-end establishment that *really* knows what it's doing, there's just no stinking way. "Death By Chocolate" need not apply. Generic appetizers for the same amounts also fail to impress, or to get me to open my wallet.

I really enjoy being able to pick what I want to pay for, and like you, I want to do it at a reasonable price point.

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Was at at trendy Italian place on Broad Street and the cheese plate was $18. Per person!

Now, what arrived was an $18 cheese plate. But it could, and did, do service for four.

Felt a bit piled on, there.

I'm on the pavement

Thinking about the government.

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These days, when we are dining with friends, I prepare a nice selection of nibbles at home and they bring the wine. We do dinner out and then back to our place for dessert.

If it's just my husband and I, we never order apps or dessert, and since we don't really drink that much, we don't order alcohol. Really cuts down the cost of the bill.

Of course we live in a town with maybe three decent dining choices, so I can't say what would happen if I lived in Seattle or New York or somewhere with decent food.

Don't try to win over the haters. You're not the jackass whisperer."

Scott Stratten

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  • 1 month later...

Honestly it sounds like youre longing for a diner... what sort of places are you looking for to have this more varied pricing? It's really been awhile since Ive seen a full service restaurant serve smaller than an 8oz patty. You could just be that table that splits an app and entree and a dessert.

Rico

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Well when I lived in the USA unless I went to upscale restaurant the portions were so big. It was not uncommon for us as brits to share an appetizer between 3 and a main each - never desert the portions were way to big. In the majority of medium scale restaurants the amount of food presented put me off. Then again I could never understand for a few dollars more you could get a great burger rather than a chain burger. But if you know us brits they still made a good profit.

In the higher to fine dining restaurants decently sized portions, almost the more you paid the less you got but the higher the quality.

Time flies like an arrow, fruit flies like a banana.

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Honestly it sounds like youre longing for a diner... what sort of places are you looking for to have this more varied pricing? It's really been awhile since Ive seen a full service restaurant serve smaller than an 8oz patty. You could just be that table that splits an app and entree and a dessert.

Philadelphia has its share of diners. Alas diner burgers typically are not very good. You obviously have not shared a table with me if you think I'm sharing anything. What's mine is mine, what's yours I at least get to taste.

At one time, maybe twenty years ago, eight ounce burgers were a rarity. The huge burger was a point of difference for places. Until the 80's or 90's most places served a four to six ounce burger. As cars have grown smaller, burgers have become bigger. Humvee-like. Soon some gastro-pub, struggling to find something that someone else has not done, will put 1958 DeSoto-like fins on their burgers. It is a brave new burger world.

What has been lost is the Shaker simplicity of a 5 ounce patty, a toasted hamburger bun, a slice of cheddar or onion, or lettuce and tomato. Also lost - the option of ordering a second burger after another beer or two.

Holly Moore

"I eat, therefore I am."

HollyEats.Com

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Back to the subject at hand.  The diet coke I order to compensate for the burger and fries.  Used to be I could order and pay for the size I want.  Now it's free refills.  The soda costs a buck more, but the refills are free.

Nothing but agreement with you there, buddy. Waaaay back in the day, you ordered "a coke," and what you got was, "a coke," - a single serving coke served in an 8 ounce bottle, and it was, how much? 10 cents or so? Today, much to the consternation of doctors and dentists everywhere, people drink literally gallons of coke and diet coke per day. And yes, diet sodas are also bad for your teeth.

There is no such thing as a "free" lunch, or a "free" refill, by the way. On top of the fact that you are ripping your enamel away from the acidity of all sodas, potentially forming kidney stones from the oxalates in colas, tearing calcium out of your bones with the phosphates (theoretically), you are also causing literal bottom line costs to the restaurant, every time you "try to get your money's worth" out of that bottomless soda. More glass breakage, more labor, more boxes of soda syrup = higher cost.

As an aside, your server is also paying for your "free refill" in shoe leather, to a certain extent, but it's sort of made up for by the fact that she's getting that much more exercise, which will help keep her bones healthy, prevent her from being overweight, and help her to avoid a number of other sedentary afflictions.

Unfortunately, the "free" refill is not able to be eliminated, because it came about from a certain amount of customer demand, and the demand is so high at this point that it cannot be eliminated without considerable backlash. People literally hate it when they cannot get all of the coke they can possibly drink, or even more specifically, all of the diet coke that they can drink. I've seen people drink the entire diet coke that I just set down in front of them, only to interrupt me as I'm trying to tell them the specials for the day, in order to say, "I need another diet coke."

Never, "Could I get a refill, please?" or, "Can I get another diet coke, whenever you come back around?" or, perhaps, "Jeez, I'm really thirsty. Could I get a glass of water?" Nope. It's generally just a constant bark of "bring me more diet coke." In their defense, I will note that some of these people, especially on the weekends, seem to be really hungover, and they seem to think that diet coke is the cure for rehydration, but I see it in other sorts of folks as well. I dated a very overweight gentleman at one point who didn't seem to realize that he was quite clearly on the verge of Type II Diabetes, and he would frequently get angry with servers over the fact that they couldn't keep up with the massive amount of fluids that he required, and berated them for not refilling his iced tea and water instantly.

This specific instance in your complaint is a symptom of the overall state of health in the United States, so I honestly cannot tell you how we should begin to address it. Now that most fast-food establishments have self-refillable sodas, it's firmly entrenched in the culture.

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In my experience, there is no bottomless cup as far as hot tea, at least not where I live (OR). The server may offer more hot water but generally, if you want another tea bag (you get perhaps two cups from one teabag), you pay. While for coffee, you get coffee each time.

If the server brings a teapot, there may be two teabags in the hot water, but again, you will pay for more teabags, if you don't want just more hot water poured into the teapot. I've had servers bring a small pot of hot water w/a teabag, and a mug filled w/hot water too--which seems a little odd to me. Apparently you're supposed to remove the teabag from the teapot and dunk it into the cup of hot water.

But I've never seen a server bring a single envelope/serving of ground coffee, dunk it into a cup and then offer more hot water but charge you if you want another envelope of a single serving of coffee.

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Chinese restaurants that brew tea in large urns and serve it in stainless steel teapots usually offer unlimited tea, in my experience.

There's something magical about that tea. I think there are narcotics in it. Why is it always so good? I can just sit there and drink and drink until I drown. When I make it at home, it's always ehhhhh, tea. Edited by fooey (log)

Fooey's Flickr Food Fotography

Brünnhilde, so help me, if you don't get out of the oven and empty the dishwasher, you won't be allowed anywhere near the table when we're flambeéing the Cherries Jubilee.

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  • 2 weeks later...

most of it is, unfortunately, consumer driven and a matter of perception. I have had people say point blank they will pay much more for a "full" plate that they are not going to even finish than pay less for a plate that they can actually eat. Much of the perception is "value". People want to think they are getting something for their money and if they pay $20 for a plate and it is jam-packed full and they leave more than half of it they walk away happy b/c they think they got their money's worth (& will tell any and every one about how it was "more than they could eat!") as opposed to paying $10 for a plate that is half as much and they can actually finish and then they complain about it being skimpy whether they actually finish it or not.

Of course there is also the matter of food cost as a restaurant can usually do an eight ounce burger at seven 1/2 ounces at twice the cost of a four ounce burger and no one will notice the difference where as a four ounce burger better be four ounces or it will definitely be noticed.

in loving memory of Mr. Squirt (1998-2004)--

the best cat ever.

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