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Price Difference for Lunch vs. Dinner

I went to this great Italian restaurant with my husband last week for lunch. We enjoyed the attentive service, the food was very good, and the prices were pretty reasonable. I just made dinner reservations because I’m celebrating birthdays with two friends. I went to their website afterwards and noticed that some of the prices were a lot higher. I didn’t check everything, but I noticed the appetizers were about $1 more, the sampler appetizer was $3 more, the pasta I had for lunch was $6 more ($15.95 instead of $9.95), and the desserts $1 more. A phone call confirmed that the amount of food is the same.

I was a little taken aback especially on the price difference of the entrees. Perhaps I normally don’t go to nice restaurants for lunch and therefore don’t notice that there are differences in the prices. I know there are different menus as in different foods being served at lunch vs. dinner. I guess I didn’t realize that the prices were that big of a difference when I’m not getting more food. I’m still going but thought I’d ask you all to see if there were any opinions about this.

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  1. I see that pretty frequently here in NYC, and that's part of the reason I often prefer to go lunch rather than dinner at more expensive places. It may also be that the portion sizes are slightly larger at dinner. That pasta seems a lot more expensive, though.

    4 Replies
    1. re: MMRuth

      There isn't more food at dinner?

      I have been under the assumption that there was 'always' more food at dinner.

      Another preconception about restaurants shot to heck.

      1. re: dolores

        I'm just saying that I don't know that to be the case one way or the other, but that it might explain the price differential.

        1. re: dolores

          In this particular restaurant, I called to say that I had a wonderful lunch with great service and just made reservations for dinner (on opentable) but noticed the price difference. I told her I was still coming but wanted to set expectations to whether the portions were larger. She was very nice and diplomatic, saying that they lower the prices for lunch but the portions were "pretty much the same."

          1. re: boltnut55

            My guess is the price difference between lunch and dinner has more to do with the number of seatings a restaurant can expect, per table, during the course of each meal service. People tend to linger longer over dinner. The lunch crowd needs to head back to the office. So basically, the price difference is most likely to be "table rent."

            The greatest thing to be wary of on prices is the cup of soup versus a bowl of soup. All too often the cup and the bowl hold exactly the same amount. Occasionally an ounce more. Rarely enough soup to meet the cost increase.

      2. I do see it quite often and for various reasons. There are the restaurants that do a huge lunch business. You're generally in and out pretty quickly as people have to go back to work. They operate more on volume during the lunch hours and can afford to offer lower prices. Then you've got the restaurants that are mainly dinner destinations but try to attract business during the lunch hours.

        1. There are several reasons for the differences in price, besides simply portion size. Primary is the length of the meal and thus the seating of a table -- at lunch it is MUCH quicker. There are places where lunch is their main meal and intended for patrons to linger, but these are few. At dinner the dining experience is forefront and the primary entertainment, while at lunch customers usually need to get in and out and even if it is a business lunch they are focused more on the business than the food.

          The more I think about it, however, it seems more a rationalization than a reason for the significant difference in prices. At dinner the diners are more likely to add an appetizer and/or a dessert to their main entree and also drink wine or cocktails, thus increasing their check to compensate for the length of seating. I guess a lot has to do with customer expectations -- dinner is assumed to cost more than lunch.

          2 Replies
          1. re: nosh

            I think the lower price for lunch is just giving the customer incentive to come into the restaurant. Unless the restaurant is in a business district there is a lot fewer people to come in and eat so the lower price during lunch encourages diners to visit.

            1. re: nosh

              Guess I should have read the whole thread before hitting "send." Sorry 'bout that!

            2. I always assume that the portions are bigger at dinner. Maybe they have table cloth at dinner but not lunch.

              1. the in-and-out lunch crowd makes the most sense to me as an explanation for the price differential.

                i've also noticed that many restaurants, even very good ones, have lower quality food at lunch than at dinner, even when you're talking about the same dishes. in part, this may be because in some places, less experienced prep chefs prepare the food at lunch time, while more experienced chefs work during dinner hours.

                7 Replies
                1. re: cimui

                  Really? Lower quality food and the same amount at lunch and dinner?

                  This is very new news to me.

                  1. re: dolores

                    I didn't say same amount of food -- though I suppose in some places it is.

                    Restaurants that I think are guilty of the lower quality lunch preparations in NYC:

                    Aquavit
                    Anthos
                    Insieme (big time)

                    I thought for a time that Insieme had really, really gone downhill after having a few bad lunches there. But it's still great at dinnertime.

                    1. re: cimui

                      cimui, I didn't say you did, I just replied to the last post.

                      boltnut55 said the food amount was the same in the OP.

                      I find that heinous.

                      1. re: dolores

                        agreed! i wouldn't want the lunch portion to be cut back just to make it look like you were getting a fair value, though.

                        1. re: cimui

                          That's correct.

                          I want more food at dinner, since I'm paying more.

                  2. re: cimui

                    Call me paranoid, but I'd suspect "leftovers" before I would wonder if the day prep cooks are as good those who work at night. Which is also why Sunday and Monday are not my first choices for eating out.

                    1. re: Caroline1

                      I have eaten out on a Sunday or Monday in the past, but if it's a very expensive restaurant I don't do it because of the leftover factor. But I'm also concerned about the B-team -- which is also why I tend not to eat out on holidays as well -- eg. Valentine's Day, etc. This doesn't matter as much if my meal is inexpensive or moderate. But if I'm spending serious bucks on a meal, I want to decrease my chances.

                  3. I am not sure if it applies here, but I have noticed that sometimes a menu item like a salad is added at dinner while it is not offered at lunch. However, the portions are pretty much the same. I also agree with those who think the price increase is due to table rent.

                    1. jfood thinks it has nothing to do with length of stay, or anything other than the restaurant has to price to the market. If the dinner prices were charged at lunch the number of people who would eat there would go down dramatically. It's like the empty seat on the airplane after it takes off, you make no money on it. Get a body in the seat, serve a good meal for a reasonable profit and hopefully make new customers for the dinner rush when money can be earned on more than entrees and iced tea.

                      1. I think it also has to do with staffing costs at lunchtime. Fewer waiters, smaller kitchen staff, often a smaller menu with easier and shorter prep time and perhaps a less experienced and cheaper cook.

                        1. I personally am pretty psyched about the fact that lunches, particularly at high-end places, tend to be more affordable/reasonably priced than dinners.

                          The only 2-starred resto here in Berlin, Fischers Fritz,

                          http://www.fischersfritzberlin.com/in...

                          is *completely* out of reach at dinner (with appetizers beginning at 30 €, and main courses ranging from 40 € to 60 €), but they have a lunch offer: 1 course 19 €, 2 courses 28 €, 3 courses 39 €.

                          Of course, VAT AND service (gasp) are included in those charges.

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: linguafood

                            At those prices they should include a little elf who cuts your meat and wipes the corners of your mouth!

                            1. re: gryphonskeeper

                              You pay for the two Michelin stars, that's all.