Whatever you think of the Zagat restaurant surveys, you ve got to tip your hat to the endurance of the little red rectangular booklets. Zagat Survey celebrates its 25th anniversary this year (yeah, I know, where does the time go?). In a recent interview, Tim Zagat, who created the publication with his wife, Nina, discussed some of the changes he s seen in the restaurant industry over the years.
One of the biggest surprises the New Yorker discussed was prices. While the cost of nearly everything else has skyrocketed, the cost of dining out has not. Since 1982, he says, the average cost at the same restaurant rose from $29.23 to $50.32, which represents a 2.62% annual rate. For that same period, inflation rose at an annual rate of 3.12%. Prices at restaurants have consistently been below the consumer price index for 25 years, says Zagat.
This is a point most of your customers don t get, and the press may be a large part of the problem. Flashy, wildly expensive new restaurants get a lot of the ink, but the restaurants people eat in every day have kept their prices very reasonable. Zagat says these restaurants recognize that dining out for many is a necessity dictated by their busy schedules. And most people choose to do so at places he calls BATH, better alternative than home. These restaurants have to produce food at a price that is competitive to what it would cost people to buy at prepared food places or to make food at home, he says.
Not only are restaurants better run than ever before, adds Zagat, the cost of ingredients has also remained relatively low, which explains why the average cost per meal in the Zagat survey rose so little.
While this is good news for consumers, flat menu prices won t make you rich. And more disheartening news comes from two new national surveys. A USA Today survey found that about 62% of people questioned said they are often too busy to sit down and eat. Just over a third of them said they eat lunch at their desk, and 26% said they often eat while driving.
People are spending all their time working, commuting and running errands, but they are not living, says registered dietitian Robyn Flipse about the survey. It will take a master changing of our universe to get people to respect eating, resting and just living.
NPD Group s 19th Annual Report on Eating Pattern in America found that the average American ate out more in 1985 (95 times per person) than last year (83 times). The report also found that the use of takeout meals is leveling out after 10 years of growth.
So, how do you respond to all this? For one, start bragging. As it turns out, you are offering one of the greatest deals in America. Your customers ought to know about it. And it wouldn t hurt if the National Restaurant Association got behind you. How about a Have We Got A Deal For You ad campaign? It could read something like this: The next time you go out to dinner and the theater or a sporting event, consider that the cost of those entertainment tickets has risen by five times the cost of inflation, while your dinner has remained a bargain!