The State of Dynamic Pricing for Restaurants in 2024, and How to Navigate

Industry Insights

MAY 02, 2024


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California's recent decision to increase the minimum wage for fast food workers to $20 has sparked a critical conversation within the restaurant industry about the concept of price uplifting or dynamic pricing. This approach, which adjusts prices based on various factors like demand, time of day, or cost pressures, is common in sectors such as ride-sharing and airlines but has seen mixed reactions when applied to dining establishments.

Dynamic pricing across other industries looks like this: 

  • Airlines will charge more for passenger tickets during popular times of the year to travel to a selected destination. 

  • Amazon uses an algorithm to change the prices of its products, on average, every 10 minutes, resulting in 25% profit boosts.

  • Uber implements surge pricing in high-demand areas, balancing reasonable pricing for users, and attractive pricing to bring chauffeurs to the high-demand area. 

  • Airbnb has a “Smart Pricing” feature, automatically adjusting a host’s nightly price based on demand and other factors. 

  • Disney World charges more during high season, and less for tickets during the less popular seasons. 

  • Grocery stores are using dynamic pricing to reduce food waste. In Norway, a 600-location supermarket chain REMA, has reduced food waste by 40%, having used dynamic pricing since 2012. 

Dynamic pricing has existed in restaurants for years. Happy Hours (legal in almost all places except Boston, Massachusetts) offers drink and food specials during the popular post-work eating and drinking hour to draw crowds into establishments. 

The Fundamentals of Dynamic Pricing in the Restaurant Industry

Dynamic pricing in restaurants is a strategy where menu prices are adjusted in real-time based on certain triggers, such as increased demand during peak hours, higher input costs, or even changes in weather. This model can help businesses manage profitability and can also be used as a tool to moderate customer flow during busy or slow times. 

It is commonly known that most restaurants mark up prices on third-party delivery apps to help offset high fees that cut into profit margins. According to MoneyTalksNews, restaurants that apply price adjustments across third parties typically do so at an average increase of 24% per meal. 

Consumers are aware of these costs but are still inclined to order from delivery apps. 63% say they do so due to the added speed and convenience, and 38% say it is their only way to access delivery from their restaurant of choice. Amongst the consumer base opposed to using delivery apps, 40% attribute this to a desire to avoid extra costs and fees. 

The Trigger: Rising Costs and Consumer Backlash

With the introduction of new wage laws in California, notable chains like Burger King, Chipotle, Taco Bell, and Wendy's have adjusted their pricing strategies. For instance, after the wage increase, Chipotle announced a 7.5% price hike, while Wendy's increased its prices by 8% in the state, and Taco Bell raised menu prices by 3% (MSN, 2024). This has led to significant public discourse on the fairness and acceptability of such price hikes. Consumer backlash, especially evident with Wendy's attempt at demand-based pricing, or “surge-pricing,” indicates a sensitivity to perceived price fairness in food services, contrasting with more acceptance in other industries. Although the brand made it clear that it would be introducing dynamic pricing to change menus and offer attractive discounts to consumers during slow periods, there was still some debate amongst consumers and restaurant operators. 

When is Dynamic Pricing Appropriate?

Dynamic pricing does not always mean increasing prices; it most often means adjusting prices to be lower and more attractive to consumers during off-peak hours in an effort to increase traffic during an otherwise slow time. 

The decision to implement dynamic pricing should consider several factors:

  1. Transparency: Customers tend to accept price changes more readily when they understand the reasons behind them. Transparent communication about why prices are being adjusted can help mitigate negative reactions.

  2. Customer Segmentation: Understanding different customer segments can allow restaurants to tailor their dynamic pricing strategies effectively, perhaps by offering off-peak discounts or loyalty perks.

  3. Market Conditions: Implementing dynamic pricing during high demand or significant cost fluctuations can help businesses stay competitive and profitable. However, it's crucial to balance profitability with customer satisfaction.

  4. Technological Integration: Technology solutions like those provided by Lunchbox enable seamless implementation of dynamic pricing. These systems can adjust prices by factors like delivery partner, location, or specific market conditions, allowing for a nuanced approach to pricing adjustments.

Implementing a Scalable Pricing Strategy Through Technology

At Lunchbox, we understand the complexities involved in price uplifting. Our Order Aggregation solution allows restaurants to implement dynamic pricing strategies that are customizable down to specific delivery partners and locations. This technology not only supports effective price management but also offers data analytics to monitor the impact of pricing strategies on sales and customer satisfaction.

With Order Aggregation, restaurants are able to adjust pricing by: 

  • Dollar or percentage amount on an item

  • Dollar or percentage amount per menu category

  • Set percentages per delivery partner 

  • Uplifting or decreasing the price of an item without changing the price of the item’s modifier 

When running promotions on third-party delivery apps, like discounts during off-peak ordering times to encourage increased volume, Lunchbox is the only order aggregator that can pass third-party discounts back to the POS, simplifying the accounting, reporting, and reconciliation process for restaurant operators. 

By providing restaurants with the tools and analytics to raise or lower their prices based on unique circumstances and guest preferences, Lunchbox allows restaurants to make informed decisions on their pricing strategies. 

Conclusion: Balancing Act in Dynamic Pricing

As the restaurant industry continues to evolve, dynamic pricing will likely become a more accepted and widespread practice. The key to successful implementation lies in using sophisticated technology to tailor pricing strategies to consumer behavior and market conditions. For restaurants considering this approach, partnering with technology providers like Lunchbox can equip them to navigate the complexities of dynamic pricing effectively, ensuring both profitability and customer loyalty.

In conclusion, while dynamic pricing is a powerful tool, its success depends on thoughtful implementation and ongoing management. As the industry adapts to new economic realities, restaurants must weigh their strategies carefully, ensuring they meet business goals while respecting consumer expectations.

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