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The Missing Online Menu Prices

I am celebrating an anniversary next weekend and decided to celebrate with a special dinner. I set out my budget and decided to find some places that looked appealing. Then, I would check out their online menu (if they had one) and see if it was in the budget target.

One place in particular caught my eye and I looked at their website. Very nicely put together. Attractive. East to read. Etc. I then click the menu link. There were lots of great choices.

Alas, there was not a single price to be found.

Still intrigued by the place, I called their phone number. I requested a copy of their menu be emailed to me. They said they couldn't accommodate my request. I asked for a faxed copy. No can do, they replied.

Okay. So I inquired about their prices. "Entrees ranged from $18 - $47." Um... okay, but that doesn't tell me much and I can tell the person on the other end of the phone is getting tired of my questions, so I simply thank them and hang up the phone followed by my drawing a thick line through that restaurant's name on the note pad that contains a variety of dining options for an anniversary celebration.

So, what gives? I am finding plenty of restaurants online that do not include their menu prices. Is there some logic that I am not getting here? In my mind, if I can't find prices, I am hesitant to go because I have been in that uncomfortable situation where the pricing structure doesn't mix well with my personal budget for the evening. And telling me a range of $18-$47 is unhelpful as well because there may be one entree at $18 and the next one in price is $35.

Frankly, I'm stumped. It's isn't that hard to list or change prices or, in a pinch, scan the current menu into a PDF file and post it as a link.

Any insight on why prices are absent from many online menus?

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  1. 1. If the prices are high (which they usu. are if they are omitted), it won't scare off the intrepid, but frugal, diner. Because once you are actually AT the restaurant, chances are you will stay and eat even if the prices are high(er) than you expected.

    2. Gives the restaurant freedom to raise/adjust prices at a whim.

    3. Avoids price bidding wars with competitors in the same general locale.

    1. Most restaurants do not host their own websites. They hire designers to set them up, and do so with the knowledge that they will not be changing things online too often (gotta pay that web guy each time you want a change). It would be worse if they posted prices that were a year old.

      Next time, I would ask for prices of specific menu items. That way, you will know what constitutes an $18 dinner vs a $47 dinner.

      1. what those guys said... and...

        Say for instance you have a restaurant that changes their menu nightly, based on available ingredients. Maybe they had a dish on last night's menu that's priced at $20.plate, but that was last night's preparation. What if tonight it's going to have truffles in it, because they just came in today? So. last night's wild mushroom tagliatelle was $20, and you go in and see that tonght's wild mushroom tagliatelle is $35. Bait and Switch! You'll cry.

        No, different dish, different night. Many excellent restaurants have a representative menu online, which may not be the same as what's on any particular nights menu, so there are no prices, because of that daily variability. You want the same everytime? Stick to Olive Garden.

        13 Replies
        1. re: cheesemonger

          If I were running a restaurant, I would feel obliged to let people know what they would be spending for my food. I would not as a matter of course change my prices sporadically, but in groupings of several at a time, and would have my website updated immediately to reflect that. Any restaurant that changes its prices radically from one day to the next is one that is run by an idiot - you MUST give yourself the leeway to hold prices at a level that will give you a profit most times, an acceptable deficit sometimes. When the deficit becomes chronic, then you re-price. This is not rocket science, just good business...which also necessarily encompasses not annoying the customers.

          1. re: Will Owen

            I respectfully disagree with you in regards to a restaurant that changes their menu seasonally, monthly, weekly or daily. There are many great restaurants that do this, especially if they are near a really good source such as Chino Farms in San Diego. Several restaurants down there go to the farm daily to choose their produce, therefore, the menu changes daily. As cheesemonger stated, if you want a regular menu, then go to those types of restaurants.

            One note though, we do not know what type of place the OP was calling. If it is a chain, then they should have set prices for set items, especially b/c they do have a menu online. Most of the restaurants that have changing menus, obviously do not have menus online.

            1. re: justagthing

              Yes but there is a huge amount of restos that fit into the seasonal menu category with none or slight variations. Many of these are on-line. So it is not Olive Garden tyes or super secret price lists because i change daily types.

              But even if they change the menu daily, the host(ess) should have been more helpful in guiding OP when he called. Stating it $18-47 is obnoxious if that is the only info offered.

              1. re: jfood

                As an FYI, the restaurant in question is a high-end steakhouse.

                1. re: Seth Chadwick

                  Well that's pretty normal for a high-end steak house. Morton's, Cap Grille, Palm do not publish on line (let's not get into whether these are high end or not). They also have a pretty extensive menu from burgers and fish to double PH's.

                  My suggestion would be to pick what you think might be ordered and call and ask for the prices for that day. See if that works.

                  BTW - Expect a very expensive dinner if these are the type you are looking for. You can order a $45 PH and when it shows up in front of you that's exactly what you get, no veggy, no potato, no nothing. Everything is a la carte.

                  1. re: jfood

                    Oh, JFood, how right your are. I was once at a restaurant where they'd only let you "look" at the menu. You couldn't take it away or make notes and of course, it wasn't online either! I think they thought it was some kind of "trade secret." Needless to say, there was no way of knowing what the spend would be!

                    TT

              2. re: justagthing

                Re: Chains. They often do not post prices online, as the cost of an item in California is likely different from that same item in Arkansas. Marketing 101 is 'Charge what the market will bear.'

              3. re: Will Owen

                The price of raw product has been known to change radically overnight, so you would be an idiot NOT to change your prices accordingly. In the last 6 months, I have seen wholesale lettuce, onions, butter, chicken etc go up more than double in a few days time. I saw a lot of pizzerias go out of business a couple of years ago because they didn't want to raise the price of their pizza when cheese doubled and then tripled, they said no one would pay more than $3.99 or $4.99 for a pie, Well they're gone and everyone left gets at least $10.99 now (even though the price of cheese is way down again!) When the price of tomatoes goes from $12 a case to over $50 as it occasionally does, a deli owner would be an idiot not to charge extra for tomato on a sandwich until the price went down again. How long should they lose money before adjusting prices? Until they're in the hole so deep that no one will sell them product?
                PS I'm facing the same dilemma, want to go to one of the best restaurants in our area for our 30th anniversary next week, and no prices on web. Everyone comments on how expensice they are, but worth it. I see they also offer a chef's tasting menu so I can just imagine how much. I'd hesitate to ask specific menu prices when making reservation but thought it wouldn't be too weird to ask the tasting prices (6 or 8 course). Oh well, that's what credit cards are good for!

                1. re: coll

                  What's so weird about asking for the price?

                  Why not just make two separate calls? One to ask for the price and another (if still apropro), to make reservations?

                  1. re: ipsedixit

                    It's like, if you have to ask, it's probably too expensive for you. I have a general idea of this place and know it will be hundreds, so what's a few bucks more or less?
                    I remember someone I know that owns a restaurant in a resort area, making fun of someone that called to ask how much their hamburgers were.
                    I guess that's what stops me.

                    1. re: coll

                      "It's like, if you have to ask, it's probably too expensive for you."

                      Or, perhaps, you are simply a wise consumer.

                      1. re: coll

                        I think that's why they put prices on the menu versus just deciding what to charge at the end of the meal. At some point in the relationship the prices are revealed and then we hear "deal or no deal?"

                        1. re: coll

                          Don't let that intimidate you one bit; get over that mind-screw fast. Take it as a lesson in empowerment, and if a restaurant gives you any hint of attitude about it, just ask more questions, and slowly.

                2. I think there are really four questions posed here:

                  1 - On-line menus - It is helpful for restos to post both menu and prices, but as others have stated, they may have a webmaster that charges for changes or the menu changes on a daily basis. These restos should have a representative menu so you can see if the norm is $17-25 with the $40 exception or the other way around.
                  2 - E-mail - some restos do not have a pdf version or do not access e-mail frequently to send so this is understandable but frustrating
                  3 - Fax - Some do not have a fax machine any longer
                  The resto should have either 2 or 3 and not having it seems a little unacceptable for a modern business and i would question whether the person answering the phone is just fibbing or lazy.
                  4 - Last resort - Ask the hostess to go through what you have in your hand from the on-line price-less menu and write down the prices.

                  If none of these work for the resto, move on. This place is not customer focused and you will probably find other items unacceptable and inflexible when you get there.

                  1. I hate this too - even a place that changes menu seasonally, or even weekly or nightly, can post a "sample menu" with prices, noting the the menu and prices are subject to change. Lots of places do just this, it works fine.

                    It's not a "classy" thing, even Chez Panisse posts prices on their website.

                    1. I agree with the idea that most restaurants don't have the skills to update their websites regularly. It is annoying when you try to order for delivery (for example) and find half the dishes on the online menu don't exist anymore. That said, ultimately I prefer the restaurant be good at food, not web design.

                      1. Many restaurants do post their prices and therefore I dont think that those that don't have an excuse. They just don't want to scare you away. They could post them and give a date when these prices were posted and, make a statement that prices were active on that date and update them say once a year, they are not going to change that much in a year and it would at least give you some idea of what you are getting yourself into.

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: malibumike

                          Sorry malibumike- I disagree with most of what you've said. Most restaurants that I go to have a different dinner menu every *night*. Update once/year? Ick.

                          But you have a point about the "disclaimer". Here's one from a restaurant I frequent, and that does have a "representative menu" online- with prices:

                          "Please note that our dinner menu changes on a nightly basis to ensure we use only the freshest and in-season ingredients.

                          Since our dinner menu changes so often, we recommend that you call after 4pm the day of your reservation if you would like to hear what we are serving that evening. We work hard to keep a variety of food on the menu, including at least one vegetarian option. That being said, our priority is always freshness and seasonality of the food."

                          I guess I don't understand going to a restaurant that serves the same thing all the time.

                          1. re: cheesemonger

                            Mnay of my friends are not chowhounders, they are the 'same place, same place; same thing, same thing' kind of attitude. Which is fine for them. I'm like you, I love to go to restaurants that have a changing menu, serves what is freshest and in season. When I do go to one that has a standing menu, I always ask if there are any daily specials, hoping for soemthing to be intriguing.

                            1. re: cheesemonger

                              to my mind, this has nothing to do with how often the menu changes. i also love to eat places that change up the menu very frequently, but they do tend to stay in similar price ranges. a sample menu representative of options on a given night, or a pallette of different items from different menus can be posted. you post a menu for two reasons - to give an idea what you do with the food, and what you charge for it. both are reasonable things for a prospective diner to wonder about.

                              like i said, chez panisse, where the menu changes every night and the meals are always costly, posts prices online. my feeling is that any place with a solid commitment to customer service will do the same.

                          2. Good news: Chili's and Macaroni Grill show their prices...will continue to reply to this with future news about other menus!

                            I ALSO think that the lack of prices REALLY SUCKS! You'd think that, with today's economy, you'd think these restaurants would do ANYTHING to get patrons to come in! Oh well!

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: jkirton2

                              I think of it in opposite terms. Due to the volatile economy, prices might change frequently so it would be hard to constantly update webpages with prices.

                              1. re: jkirton2

                                Well...it was the economy from 18 months ago.

                                And... Chili's and/or Macaroni Grill aren't places I'd be jumping at for an anniversary celebration anyhow.

                                Not that I'm sure you're not at all connected to those restaurants in any professional way.

                              2. Plain and simple, modifying an online menu costs money. Most websites, whether upscale or McDonald's (that doesn't show prices either) intentionally omit prices so the menu can stand for years.

                                6 Replies
                                1. re: Caroline1

                                  Ok, I just looked at Babbo's website where they give a "typical" menu (my quotes). And it says it's from Oct. 2005. But at least I know if the sardines were $12 then, they probably aren't $30 now. Yes, modifying a menu costs money but they could update, say, annually or just say this is representative.

                                  1. re: c oliver

                                    But why should they have to say it? You figured it out. Besides, if you call during non-peak hours (say twenty minutes to a half hour before they open) you can usually get all sorts of pricing information just by asking. They want your business, and my experience has been that restaurants are uniformly helpful about prices.

                                    1. re: Caroline1

                                      "But why should they have to say it? You figured it out."

                                      Sorry. I wasn't clear when I wrote. I didn't mean Babbo (totally an example) should be updating more; I meant that restaurants who DON'T give prices, even old prices, ought to. I live in a resort-ish area in No Cal, visit SF fairly often and NYC occasionally. Out of curiosity I spot-checked perhaps ten restaurants over those three places and they all gave prices. When I'm making dinner plans, whether for the same night or a month out, I like to have a sense of what it's going to cost. We don't have unlimited means but I'm sure even those who do, want to have some basic guidelines. I find this even more important when traveling. And I think others have mentioned that it seems it's more often the more expensive restaurants that don't list prices. I find it more than a little annoying and probably wouldn't patronize those restaurants for that reason only. It doesn't anger me. But it makes me feel that they don't value my dining dollars and therefore I'll spend them elsewhere.

                                      1. re: c oliver

                                        It always boils down to a matter of personal choice. If a restaurant's reputation makes it someplace I really want to try, I will call for price information, then plan on three times the estimate for dinner for two. Usually works. And maybe a prayer or two.... '-)

                                        1. re: Caroline1

                                          I hear you. But would you acknowledge that if a restaurant didn't have a "reputation," that price would be at least a small factor?

                                          1. re: c oliver

                                            Well, price is always a "small" factor. It probably holds more weight in a restaurant that serves "everyday" food than in a place that has a reputation for serving something really spectacular.

                                2. Let that be a warning to watch out. That's a red flag for me and if I do partake, I anticipate a more high-end price, unfortunately usually not linked to quality.

                                  1. In some locales, restaurants are REQUIRED to POST menus outside the building so there are none of those "little surprises" when you get inside.

                                    I want to know what I am getting into before I get to the restaurant, I generally avoid places without thej prices.