Josh writes in a recent post:
Currently Boston is having Restaurant Week (which lasts, confusingly, for two weeks, till the 28th). For those of you who haven’t been exposed to the phenomena, it means cheap meals at fancy restaurants. Somewhere like No. 9 Park in Boston, where the three course prix fixe usually costs $65, will have a three course menu for $33.10 (don’t ask me what the $0.10 is about).
Boston isn’t the only city to have an odd, non-integer pricing scheme for Restaurant Week, where in addition to their strange dinner prix fixe price, RW lunch is $15.10 (2-course) or $20.10 (3-course). In New York this year, RW lunch is $24.07 and dinner is $35. In Washington DC, lunch and dinner were $20.10 and $35.10 respectively. What’s up with the weird prices–why charge an extra ten cents or seven cents? It can’t be taxes, because as any menu or RW ad will tell you, taxes and gratuity are not included in the Restaurant Week price. Are restaurants adjusting for inflation, and if so, why not simply round up a whole dollar? Whatever the reason, it’s not universal. LA, for example, has a confusing system of 6 different prices, ranging from $16-44, but each is a whole dollar amount.
This inclusion of $0.07 and $0.10 may seem odd, not only because we’re accustomed to seeing $0.95 or $0.99 if cents are used, but because nicer restaurants in recent years have gravitated away from decimal points (and cents) completely. This is after studies showed that consumers spent more money when restaurants eliminated pricing cues like the dollar-sign and cents from their menus. Restaurant consultant Gregg Rapp tells clients to “omit dollar signs, decimal points, and cents… It’s not that customers can’t check prices, but most will follow whatever subtle cues are provided.” So why deviate from accepted smart menu practice for Restaurant Week?
I was curious what motivated this pricing scheme, and so I decided to engage in a marginal amount of investigative journalism by contacting Restaurant Week planning authorities from New York City, Boston, and Washington D.C. Their answers are reprinted below:
From Boston Chef’s Inc.
In Boston, they just try and make the price somehow relevant to the current year and as inexpensive as possible while still realistic for the restaurants.
I can’t speak for the other cities, but Washington restaurant prices are the year (2010) for lunch ($20.10) and more for dinner. How much more (this January, it was $15.00 more) is decided by a committee representing the participating members of the Restaurant Association.
And an interesting and thorough answer from NYC & Company:
NYC Restaurant Week is the original and oldest program of its kind. To welcome the DNC in 1992, the program was created to offer delegates the chance to dine out and with a prix-fix price of $19.92 to represent the year. Every year it went up one penny to reflect the calendar. In 2003, we introduced dinner and prices were set as lunch for $20.03 and dinner for $30.03.
In 2005 and 2006, we were working to bring the 2012 Olympics to NYC. So prices were set for lunch as $20.12 (to reflect the bid year) and dinner for $35 (this was simply to set an easy number). NYC came in third overall in the bid and look forward to the summer games in London.
Starting in 2007, we set a standard price system that could be used year over year so consumers could easily remember. Today lunch is set for $24.07 (to reflect the City that never sleeps, we are open 24/7) and dinner remains at $35.
While I cannot confirm for other Restaurant Week cities, I suspect the $20.10 represents the year 2010. It would be best to reach out to each city for the official answer.
With the answer in hand, it now seems obvious that $0.10 may have represented 2010, though the 24/7 reference still seems somewhat difficult to figure out. The bigger question is whether the meaning of the prices is commonly understood and appreciated by RW patrons, or if it is an esoteric inside joke mainly for the RW organizers?
Well, welcome to the inside.