Monday, March 16, 2009

Blue Sage gives patrons final say in pricing

Coming from a restaurant family, Chris Dussin presumably knows all the tricks for pulling first-time customers into a place. But the one he started using last week at The Dussin Group’s two Blue Sage Cafes in Portland, Ore., is probably a first for the son of Old Spaghetti Factory founder Gus Dussin. Indeed, the ploy is novel enough to snag headlines in several local media outlets, helping to achieve the desired end without a separate outlay for marketing or public relations.

Not that the technique is unkonwn. At least one restaurant in the United States has similarly let patrons set the price of what they’re served. The approach has more recently snagged publicity for restaurants in Toronto and the United Kingdom. It may be a matter of time until places embrace the name-your-price tactic as a standard promotional device for the Great Recession, similar to product giveaways in fast-food or the bundling that’s now widely evident in casual dining.

Dussin’s approach has a little more structure than some of the early pay-what-you-want incarnations. In at least a few of those pioneering efforts, patrons were asked after eating to fork over whatever they felt the meal was worth.

Dussin provides guests with what amounts to a manufacturer’s suggested retail price for food items. Customers are presented after the meal with a tab listing the prices of what they ordered. They in effect decide whether that price was worth it. If not, they counter with their final offer. Dussin told that some guests had indeed penciled in a zero for their charge, but that others had volunteered to pay more than the listed price.

The Your Price is Right promo is scheduled to run at the two casual restaurants until early next month.

The Dussin Group also operates the Old Spaghetti Warehouse chain and another full-service concept called Fenouil.

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