Restaurants are in danger of devaluing their brand through price promotions, warns a leading food service consultant.
Peter Blackman, managing director of Horizons, has expressed his concern that two-for-one and other discount deals undertaken to counter the effects of recession will be "difficult and time-consuming to get out of".
Writing for the Times, Blackman acknowledges that the profusion of special offers in the sector over the past 18 months has helped mitigate the impact of the recent downturn. Previously the restaurant sector has been seen as particularly vulnerable in times of recession, but this view has been revised somewhat, Blackman surmises, because "eating out is now so entrenched in the British way of life that consumers are reluctant to give it up".
These deals have become an accepted and reliable way for mid-spend restaurants to build consumer traffic in quiet times, but they have now been around for more than 12 months and their currency is in danger of becoming debased
Peter Blackman, food service consultants Horizon
Discounts and other special offers have been adopted by mid tier brands such as Pizza Hut, Pizza Express and Zizi to enable cash-strapped Britons to sustain the frequency of their restaurant visits, if not the amount they spend in each visit. Even high-end restaurants have deigned to target a lower price tier, often offering midweek discounts.
With the economy emerging, albeit anaemically, from recession, it's time for the trade to move away from heavy discounting, writes Blackman. But this could be tricky given consumers have become accustomed to discounts across the sector.
"These deals have become an accepted and reliable way for mid-spend restaurants to build consumer traffic in quiet times," says Blackman. "But they have now been around for more than 12 months and their currency is in danger of becoming debased.
"Restaurant chains have got themselves into a tight corner over discounting that is likely to be difficult and time-consuming to get out of. And with so much competition on the high street between broadly similar outlets, it would take a brave operator to put an end to price promoting when the competition continues to discount."
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