When did soup get so expensive?

27Aug10

It’s common practice for restaurant menus to omit the prices for some of the more expensive items. This is quite common with seafood, but it can apply to other special dishes, too. But there’s also a reasonable expectation that the prices for any unmarked items will fall within some logical range.

With this in mind, I was rather livid after ordering a few bowls of soup at a pizza place, and getting hit with an outrageous bill. Despite only charging $12-13 for the entire pizza, the vegetable soup was $9 per bowl. I can see that price making sense at a high-end restaurant where the meals cost $25-40 each, or if the soup contained lobster or another costly ingredient. But $9 for a bowl of vegetable soup? Simply outrageous.

I argued with the restaurant and they eventally agreed to lower the bill, but this also made me wonder what the heck they were thinking. My best guess: a lot of customers were trying to order soup instead of entrees to keep the cost down, and the restaurant’s revenue was dropping. So, they decided to combat this trend by just making soup the same cost as a basic entree. And to make things worse, they omitted the price of soup from the menu.

The right way to handle this involves several steps. First, change the soup offerings to include one set of prices for people who order soup with an entree, and then another set of prices for people who order soup as their entire meal. Obviously, the price will be higher when the soup is purchased on its own. Then, make the standalone soup include something extra, like a salad or small pasta side, so it seems like you actually get more value for the higher cost. Finally, print the prices on the menu, or at least provide a price range for the typical soups you sell.

Taken together, these improvements should help the restaurant maintain a steady level of revenues even when people opt for soup as their meal. At the same time, the price and presentation will be much more equitable for customers, and nobody will be shocked by over-inflated soup pricing once the bill arrives.



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