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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.

About Greg McGuire

Greg has blogged about the food service industry for years and has been published in industry magazines, like Independent Restaurateur and industry blogs like Restaurant SmartBrief. He lives in Colorado with his wife and two sons and enjoys reading, live music, and the great outdoors.

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One comment

  1. 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: http://ow.ly/5u0fh

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