Sympathy for Inflation

When I bought lunch yesterday, the sign below was posted at the front of the queue at a nearby restaurant. Of course I found it interesting, and I’m probably the only who did. Everyone else seemed to be going about their business as usual, and I heard no complaints or comments.

It’s rare to see this type of announcement, let alone one as blunt as this sign. If you consider your dining-out excursions, I presume that you, like me, can recall very few instances of restaurants broadcasting the fact that prices have gone up. If I were operating a restaurant or a chain of hundreds or thousands of them, I know I’d waver about this decision. Won’t customers figure it out on their own? If they wouldn’t notice, why should we bother to mention it?

The best answer I can give is this: If you think it’s the right thing to do, then do it; if you think it’s not, then don’t. Both approaches have justification, as we can observe in everyday dining out.

Other industries don’t necessarily serve as helpful role models. Retailers wouldn’t disclose price increases. I’ve never seen Macy’s do this, for example, though they abundantly communicate discounts. Grocers rarely communicate increases, except in the case of drought-related temporary price hikes, when they post signs in the produce department. Some service providers, such as hair stylists, tend to give notice that prices will increase, hoping to avoid unpleasant surprises for patrons. As a service provider myself, I am obligated to discuss my fees and any increase to clients or risk alienating them.

The sign in question.

Though it’s hard to find a good comparison in other industries, the nature of the purchase is key. The dollar amount and frequency of purchase are important to keep in mind, and a good guideline is that if there is going to be an inconvenience or surprise to your guests, you should carefully consider how to best handle it.

The restaurant I visited had an interesting message. I felt almost worried that if I didn’t accept the price hike, they would go under. Consultants and marketing types typically recommend a spin such as: “To continue to provide you with the same high-quality experience we have always offered, we must increase our prices effective immediately. We appreciate your business and look forward to continuing to serve you.” This restaurant generally conveyed that. Overall, avoiding too much detail and being honest and straightforward are the best pieces of advice. Although a bit more finesse may have been nice, and proper punctuation helps too.

In the end with the bill in hand, I didn’t perceive that the price of my usual order had changed (and I notice this stuff). I will continue to patronize the restaurant. I certainly appreciate the restaurant’s need to make adjustments to stay in business. Judging by the other patrons, I could tell others feel the same way. So in the end, was the sign necessary? I have no difference of opinion about the establishment, other than maybe respecting management’s honesty and directness.

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