Many of us have been in this position before: You’re browsing through restaurants online, looking for a fun place to dine that night. Nothing fancy needed; just a relaxed spot to enjoy good food and atmosphere. You find what seems to be the perfect place. You check out the menu and it looks good…but where are the prices? How much will this meal cost? The last thing you want is to make the drive only to find out this place is twice as much as it’s supposed to be. You move on, continuing your search for a match you can be sure about.
Not all restaurants are created equal, and different online strategies are necessary for each establishment to maximize conversion—in this case, getting a customer who finds you online to actually walk into your restaurant and pay for a meal. And while we discussed enhancing your online presence through SEO in a previous issue, the decision to post menu prices online can make or break the customer’s decision to actually visit your restaurant.
So when do you post your menu prices online? There is no golden rule, but generally speaking you should only forego posting prices if you cater to the kind of guests where money is never an issue. This said, I’ve outlined several points to address the issue further.
1. Know your customer
This idea has been mentioned several times across previous issues, and will inevitably be mentioned again in the future. Every successful business knows its core customers, and restaurants should be among the strongest performers in this regard.
This doesn’t mean you need to sit down with every 2-top to memorize their name and favorite order. Rather, simply observe the types of people who dine with you. How old are they? What is their average spend per visit? What items are being ordered more often, and at what price point? What items are not selling, and are those coming at a different price point?
When to post prices online: When your target customer is more price-sensitive. Typically, this customer is younger or in a lower income bracket. They order fewer items and tend to choose from the cheaper options on the menu. This type of customer needs to be sure about what they’re going to spend before they walk in, or else they won’t walk in at all.
2. Know yourself
This one may seem obvious, but I have personally glanced over many great-looking restaurants simply because they didn't align their pricing strategy with their identity. Simply put, know whether your restaurant is considered casual or high-end. There’s certainly a lot of gray in between and everyone has their own opinion, but the answer can probably come back to your customers. Their demographics and purchasing decisions should say it all.
Brand misalignment leads to much bigger issues than online pricing. Very few roadhouse BBQ spots can pull off high-end appeal. Conversely, few customers will appreciate a cheap and cheap-looking steakhouse. Extreme examples aside, think about the kind of food you serve and your average check.
When to post prices online: When your restaurant is on the casual side. If your restaurant has an entire section dedicated to pizza or burgers, you are almost certainly a casual place, no matter how posh your décor. Even if you consider yourself high-end, I would recommend posting prices online if your average check is less than $100/guest.
3. Know your motive
Hiding menu prices online will work if you’re emphasizing the food and the experience. Again, this can only work in very high-end or reputable establishments where the customer cannot afford to care about the price. If you’re another new, posh-looking restaurant that serves a hip crowd and stays on top of the trends with a menu full of creatively-named dishes, then you’re likely catering to millennials. Millennials tend to be price-sensitive, and you cannot afford to lose them to a place that tells them exactly how much they're going to spend beforehand.
If you think that hiding your prices online will help lure customers in, think again. Many will discover your prices one way or another, and many more will simply give up on you altogether.
When to post prices online: If you’re trying to attract more customers into your restaurant. Unless you’re booked solid for days at a time, you likely fall into this category.
Extremely important in any case is keeping your menu current, especially the prices. When customers mentally plan on ordering a $20 item and find that it’s $22 when they walk in, that will likely be the last time you see them. Always err on the side of caution when it comes to pricing: if you’re still in doubt of whether or not to post prices, post them.
Benjamin Brown is a seasoned restaurant writer and hospitality consultant, serving up SoCal's hottest food news and reviews.