What Price Lunch?

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Joined Feb 1, 2007
Got a question the other day for which I had no answer. In fact, I've wondered about this myself, from time to time.

A new upscale restaurant opened in town, and a friend and I were looking at the menu. He looked at me, and asked: How come, at places like this, the same dish served at lunch is less expensive than when it's served at night?

He has a point. If the dish is the same; and the wait staff and boh people are paid the same; and the overheads are the same; why does it cost a patron more to have dinner than to have lunch?

Anybody got an explanation?
 
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Labor cost is the first that comes to mind, there are usually at least 2 less cooks on at lunch then at dinner time.Also the side dish that comes with the meal may be different too, during lunch it is maybe fries and a salad, for dinner it could be risotto and vegetables.
 
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In many cases the portion size is smaller and served with different sides than the dinner entree offers.......ChefBillyB
 
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I'm not in the restaurant business, but I always figured lunch was less expensive because they had ample customers at dinnertime, but needed to put butts in the seats at lunchtime.
 
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The first time I really noticed that lunches were less than dinners for the, apparently, same menu item was at Beni Hanna on La Cienega in Los Angeles in the early 70s.

Upon closer inspection, lunch did not include soup, salad, or dessert, they were available, but a la carte and the portion sizes were reduced. If you know Beni Hanna, there isn't a measurable difference in labor. So, it appears, the only cost reduction was in food costs.

Now, if you go to a restaurant in an area where the noon meal, dinner instead of lunch, is the major meal of the day, say an older ag community, and supper, instead of dinner, you will often find the reverse.

Perhaps it is culturally based?

From my observations in the USA, urban and suburban meals follow a "calorie pattern" of 20%-30%-50% while rural meals are more along the lines of  30%-50%-20%.
 
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Interesting observation, Pete.

While it's true that the big meal of the day, in rural areas, is served mid-day (my wife still can't get used to the different uses of the word "dinner," though), I've never noticed that in restaurants. Certainly not in any that could be described as fine dining.

The restaurant that sparked the discussion would have to seriously adjust the portion sizes, cuz that's the only differences based on the menu. Both lunch and dinner entrees include small house salad or cup of bisque. And the other entries are written exactly the same. F'rinstance, Jumbo Lump Crab Cake comes with whiped potatoes, wilted spinach, shiitake dijon cream sauce. For dinner it's $24. But the same meal, at lunch, is only 11 bucks.

Do you reckon the lunch serving is half the size of the dinner portion?

It's not an issue I've paid a lot of attention to, in the past. Bu, come to think about it, I've never noticed that radical a price differential before. Mostly it's something on the order of 20-25%. That is, a $12 lunch entree would run something like $15 in the evening.
 
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i agree, smaller portions..maybe not half the portion size, but definately smaller...maybe use smaller plates as well.. sometimes its used a a 'lost leader' just to get customers in the door....some may not order the special anyway. good value equals a most probable return visit...hopefully for dinner, where they will order a cocktail or wine with dinner....which is where the best margins are. if a restaurant offers a nice, inexpensive lunch entree, a lot of people will also have a glass of wine or a beer with it, which again, evens out the margins...in the end, it evens out...think its a bit of a psychology thing...look at 'two for ones', for example. buy one entree, get one free. it gets customers in the door. customers think that if they are getting a 'free' entree, then they can order a better wine, a top shelf cocktail etc. in the end, they pay the same as if they didn't buy the 2 fers, but somehow they feel they got a better deal....go figure. the restaurant is happy because their restaurant is full, their employees are kept working and by make money on the booze, they cover their food costs....

joey
 
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Durangojo, I see the same thing with twofers in restaurants that don't serve alcohol. In that case, the customers often have dessert where they might, otherwise, not have it.
 
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Not disagreeing, but.....

If you're subsidizing food costs from the bar, perhaps you're in the wrong business? Maybe you should be running a bar that offers snacks instead?
 
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KYH,  What is the difference between a good Roadhouse that has beer and wine offering $1.00 Pepper sausages on a  bun with some condiments (as seen on Alton Browns "Feasting on Asphalt") and a good restaurant offering a cheap lunch to get some alcohol revenue? Even soda has a good return. It is an industry ploy. Doesn't mean it will work in the long run, but it isn't going to kill them in the short run.

I am more curious what PeteMcCracken or Chefedb does or did for thier lunch services.
 
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I also thought that they need to get people into the restaurant for lunch.  Then even if they lose money, they may get new customers for supper. 

Also prices of things are usually not as much related to the cost of making them as to how much people are willing to spend.  At lun ch people are probably not willing to pay as much. 
 
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Not disagreeing, but.....

If you're subsidizing food costs from the bar, perhaps you're in the wrong business? Maybe you should be running a bar that offers snacks instead?
yes ky, hopefully the bar is not subsidizing the restaurant's food cost...but sometimes it may have to, or may want to just in order to get people in the door. there are lots of variables -- how competitive your market is, where you are in the market,i.e. a new venue vs. established etc. some restaurants serve lunch to help cover their overhead, to keep their employees employed and to build clientele. dinner is the money maker, not lunch. the restaurant business is tough tough and building customer loyalty is everything. by offering dinner entrees at lunch, the restaurant is hoping that you will return for dinner...with your friends! if i know one single thing about this crazy business its that there are no absolutes! you do what you do to get people in the door, or soon you won't have a door!

joey
 
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This is my opinion

A lot of places are known for dinner only> The revenue that they take in for lunch, to a lot of them is gravy. Portions are smaller. Most cases there are people in kitchen anyway . It cost them for server who gets paid little and a BT if needed in some cases owner or manager fills in here. The lower price may be just a draw

Also if it cost lets say $400.00 to put key in door and open daily. Divide that figure  by lets say 10 hours thats $40.00 per hour where if open 15 hours thats $25.00 per hour . Fast food joints realized this, thats why they are opened till real late at night and in some cases 24 hours... Yet you are paying 24 hours for insurance, electric consumption for refrigeration, garbage removal, burgular alarms services, phone servies, gas services. or as its called fixed overhead.
 
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...I am more curious what PeteMcCracken or Chefedb does or did for thier lunch services.
Lunch menu was a la carte: soup(s), salad(s), sandwich(es), desserts,  with a few "dinner entrees" as specials (no soup, no salad, no dessert)

Dinners were three (3), four (4), or five(5) courses, prix fixe. ANY substitutions/modifications/special orders triggered a la carte pricing. Prix Fixe prices were, approximately, 85-90% of the equivalent a la carte prices.

A la carte prices were identical for lunch and dinner.
 
 
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While a lot of restaurants do change the portion sizes, some do not.  I remember ordering shark for lunch and it was so good, I came back for supper that night (they were close to work).  The dinner portion as identical to the lunch portion, but the price was 30% or more higher.  I felt "cheated" at dinner because I simply expected a larger portion. 

It is generally accepted that most people eat more for supper than for lunch (I have to be careful with the word "dinner" as different regions define dinner as lunch vs supper).  In restaurants where "extras" are served, such as chips and salsa, salad and bread, etc, customers generally consume less of those during the lunch meal. 

Overall, I believe that different owners simply have different philosophies on "profit".  In assembly-line pizza, I had an owner tell me that "the oven is already on and the employees are already here", so he determined the cost of a pizza on food cost.  In fairness, he quickly backtracked when we started discussing "real" numbers.  It comes down to getting butts in seats.  Lunch is usually over in under two hours, start to finish (11:30a-1:30p).  The supper business can start as early as 5 and not be over until 9pm easily.  Lunch is about speed and turning tables, while supper is often used as a vehicle for add-on sales (drinks and desserts). 

In a perfect world, the supper portions would be larger than the lunch portions, but the lunch business is so competitive that you simply cannot charge supper prices for lunch when the competition doesn't do the same. 
 
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Gunnar !

. I have always had good results with buy one and  the 2nd  1/2 price, in particular here in Florida (a lot of retirees and fixed income)  they had to order 2 beverages in order to get this deal..Even 2 cokes at $1.50 each, what does that cost you?. Also Wednesday was ladies day.(a special deal like soup and special sandwich,@5.29. I also recycled a lot.  If previous night dinner had beef burgundy, then next day lunch would have beef pot pie. Or night before broiled grouper, next lunch Crispy Fried Grouper on a Bollo Bun with slaw and Tango Sauce..Dinner stir fry chicken  dish. Lunch Chinese chicken salad with almonds.etc.. It proved to be a great outlet for me and increased my volume, and leveled down my overall food cost.and operating hours overhead.
 

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