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Menu Engineering: Combo Meals Make Customers Think Value

Menu Engineering: Combo MealsNo matter what kind of restaurant you run, from fast casual to fine dining, combo meals can help your customer make a choice that makes them feel like they’re getting a deal, even if the combo costs exactly the same as the a la carte menu.

This is backed up by a study conducted last year by a professor at the University of Virginia Darden School of Business and discussed in Fast Casual magazine.  The study concluded that customers preferred combo meals regardless of portion size or actual savings versus ordering each item separately.

Part of the combo meal’s popularity is that it’s easier to order than choosing a bunch of a la carte items separately.  Even so, customers who participated in the study said definitively that they thought they were getting a deal when they ordered a combo, even when this turned out to not be the case.

For restaurateurs this information probably confirms something that most knew already.  But that doesn’t mean menus can’t be re-engineered using the combo concept to boost margins, sales, and customer satisfaction.

That’s because large national chains like Applebee’s have taken the combo concept beyond the days of “I’ll have a number 3 please.”  These chains present a series of menu items in a la carte format and let customers build their own combos.  The menu items are undoubtedly high margin winners, and customers love the ability to customize their combo selection.

If you’re an independent restaurateur with no combos on the menu, or even if you already have a more traditional combo section, consider changing up the menu for the new year by taking some of your most popular entrees and apps and placing them on a mix-and-match combo offer.

You don’t have to mark them down all that much (or at all), and combined with a marketing campaign promoting your very own value menu, you just might drum up some business in an otherwise slow January.

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2 Responses to Menu Engineering: Combo Meals Make Customers Think Value

  1. Graydon Clarke July 4, 2011 at 10:30 am #

    I seem to like your articles, Greg. I really enjoyed your look at the combo, particularly how you go into the psychology around it, instead of just saying ‘people like combos because they give them discounts’. I definitely blogged about your post, and commented on it. Here’s the link:


  1. Restaurants Concentrate In Promoting Baskets Instead of Combos - April 4, 2012

    […] feel like they are getting a deal, even if the combo actually costs the same as a la carte menus. A study done in 2010 by a professor at the University of Virginia Darden School of Business showed that customers do […]

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