Opinion

The great restaurant pricing debate

By Sarah John, director, Boss Brewing

- Last updated on GMT

Pandemic impact: I say this with no expectation or not as a jibe; at the end of the day, Covid has put an exceptional strain on the hospitality sector and no one could blame someone for squeezing out more profit where possible during what has been an incredibly testing time'
Pandemic impact: I say this with no expectation or not as a jibe; at the end of the day, Covid has put an exceptional strain on the hospitality sector and no one could blame someone for squeezing out more profit where possible during what has been an incredibly testing time'

Related tags: Food, Brewing, Chefs, Tom kerridge

It was popcorn at the ready for me recently as I saw the argument unfold between Wine Expert Guy Woodward and Celebrity Chef Tom Kerridge on Twitter.

For those who missed it, Woodward swung the first punch; he ridiculed Chef Tom for describing his restaurant the Hand and Flowers, in Marlow, Buckinghamshire, as ‘unpretentious’ and ‘for everyone to enjoy’ while simultaneously offering a steak and chips for £87 and a crème brulee for £26.50. 

Kerridge hit back, retorting that ‘the real cost of dining should be addressed’ and that ‘unpretentious does not mean cheap’. 

A very tasty debate indeed (excuse the pun).  Perhaps the obvious place to start is that nobody is forcing anyone at gun point to eat at any of Kerridge’s restaurants. 

To visit there is indeed a choice​, one that no one is obliged to make. The beautiful thing about the tapestry of pubs, bars and restaurants in the UK is that there really is something for everyone – from local boozers to swanky champagne bars, from cheap and cheerful pub grub to the finest of dining, and everything in between.

No cloaks and daggers

In short, there are other options and just because one restaurant is undeniably highly priced, it does not prohibit those with a smaller budget from going out and having a lovely dinner elsewhere.

Kerridge also asks the interesting question ‘Why is profit a bad word?’  He is absolutely right in that profit is often seen as a dirty word, especially in certain sectors including hospitality. 

In plenty of other sectors, business owners are applauded for putting their prices up and for ‘knowing their worth’ and charging accordingly, often at a cost of hundreds of pounds an hour to their clients. Given that the Hand and Flowers is the only 2-star Michelin pub in the country, do they not have the same right to know their value and charge at a premium, heaven forbid it making some money in the process?

Now, I would dispute Kerridge’s remark that his establishment is for ‘everyone to enjoy’.  There is no denying that the food is expensive and quite frankly out of the realms of what is affordable for a lot of people.

However, there are no cloaks and daggers here and his prices are open and visible on his website for everyone to see.  This is very different to a story I heard recently where a glass of house wine at a certain establishment was £18 – something that the customer only discovered AFTER receiving the bill as it was not published anywhere.

I would like to think that there would be no nasty surprises at the Hand and Flowers; people generally expect a Michelin star venue to command higher prices and the cautious would almost certainly check out the prices (which are transparent online) before heading there to enjoy a bite to eat. 

Staff shortage very real crisis

When justifying his prices, Kerridge makes the point that they include ‘everything’ such as ‘service’ and ‘VAT’.  On this point, it would be interesting to know if the prices were reduced and the savings passed on to the customer when the VAT rate was reduced to 5% for hospitality. 

I say this with no expectation or not as a jibe; at the end of the day, Covid has put an exceptional strain on the hospitality sector and no one could blame someone for squeezing out more profit where possible during what has been an incredibly testing time. I do wonder though if this means the pricing will go up as the temporary 5% rate starts to unravel from the 1 October?

Interestingly, another factor that he attributed to his higher pricing is that he ‘pay[s] staff properly and treat[s] their job as a professional career’.  A staff shortage is a very real crisis facing the sector at the moment with long hours and low pay often being cited as the main reasons. 

I know nothing of how Kerridge operates his pubs and therefore of the truth of the claim.  However assuming it is genuine, I applaud any operator who has the scope to pay these higher salaries partly by commanding higher menu prices. We should be praising those in the industry who are doing their bit to pave the way for hospitality as a serious career. 

What it ultimately boils down to is this: we live in a capitalist society where prices are determined by supply and demand.  If Tom Kerridge is able to price his products very highly while still generating a demand and therefore business, good on him. 

As mentioned earlier, you have only got to look at the plethora of options in the market catering to all different budgets to know that these high-end venues are not and will not drive up prices elsewhere to the detriment of the consumer.  Horses for courses and all that.  If the market decides that they are no longer willing to pay his prices, it will be him that suffers and no one else. So where’s the harm? 

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