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Higher Menu Prices and Congruency
By Alex Makarski

In order to be able to set and maintain higher menu prices than those of your competition, you need to carefully "choreograph" all elements of your customer's experience. And in that, no detail is too small.

Onwards to a story.

We just had a nice dinner in San Simeon, California. A tiny village halfway between LA and San Francisco with a population of 400, it consists of a gift shop and maybe a dozen of hotels and restaurants on both sides of Hwy 1.

Given the geographic location (middle of nowhere), we didn't expect much from the seafood restaurant attached to the hotel where we stayed for the night. Least of all did we expect their menu to demand a more-than-respectable $21+ average per entree.

Yet that’s exactly what it did.

A family with 2 kids at the table next to us, not able to cope with the sticker shock, got up noisily and hurried out the door in search of a more affordable option. (Kudos to the Maitre D’ who was prompt, vocal, and sincere in thanking them for coming and making it appear to the other guests as if he was parting with his best friends.)

We stayed. Part too lazy to move our buns, part curious to see how the kitchen would live up to a relatively high bar they’d set for themselves.

The restaurant was about half-full. The day being Monday, and many of the kids being back at school, that looked like a good night.

The waiter did his part well all the way, from offering the drinks to suggesting the specials, to becoming invisible when we didn’t need him, to re-appearing when we did. The food was worth every dollar the menu demanded for it, and possibly more.

Looks like we had a winner.

Except for one small but nagging detail.

Which was the busgirl (the person making the least money of all the people at the store that night) who answered every “thank you” with a dewy-eyed "uhuh".

Now, since when does "uhuh" mean "you're welcome"?

I found myself thinking about how well everything that night was orchestrated to make my experience congruent with the menu and to make me happy to part with the money.

And also thinking about how every lumpish “uhuh” thrown at me negated everything good that had happened to that point, and reminded of how far away from the city we were.

That is called incongruency and it is your biggest obstacle to your ability to increase and maintain higher check averages.

When it comes to restaurant marketing, little things aren't little anymore. They are everything.

Three questions for you to ponder (your restaurant business will soar once you find answers to these):

How should you "choreograph" your customers' experience?
How do you train your waitstaff now and how should you really train them?
How can you ensure they don't bring their hapless social habits into your restaurant?

Alex Makarski is Chief Commando of, a restaurant coaching and consulting firm.

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