Do good reviews cause restaurant price hikes?

By Felix Salmon
June 1, 2011
Gastronomics column, and I think the answer is no.

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Are restaurants which get good reviews more likely to raise their prices? That’s the question I tried to answer in my latest Gastronomics column, and I think the answer is no.

I didn’t have the ability to do very deep quantitative research on the question, partly because historical prices for restaurants are very hard to come by. But with the help of fabulous New York intern Ray Rahman, I did manage to look at what’s happened to the prices at all the restaurants Sam Sifton’s reviewed for the NYT over the past year. And here’s the result:


(Source: this spreadsheet.)

The message of the graph is pretty clear: price hikes happen all over the place, from the worst-reviewed restaurants to the best. And most restaurants are tweaking their menu prices most of the time, for many reasons. Meanwhile, restaurants with no reviews at all of late, like Gordon Ramsey at the London or Milos, often have the highest prices and the biggest price hikes.

The inspiration for the column was Bloomberg’s Ryan Sutton, whose wonderful Tumblr, The Price Hike, is a must-follow for all New Yorkers. Sutton concentrates mainly on tasting menus, partly because those are where the big money is, and partly because it’s much easier to remember how much a single tasting menu costs than it is to remember a long list of prices. But even for those of us who avoid tasting menus as much as possible, it’s always a good idea to remain conscious of prices. Because restaurants have a nasty habit of waiting until you’ve sat down to spring their latest price hike on you — even when it’s a very big one.

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Interesting, but I think a more interesting question would be to see if a review increases ‘average spend,’ which I think is the metric you used in a past post. My tendency upon reading a review is to buy the items that were positively reviewed, so I suppose it depends what sort of margin the positively reviewed items get. Of course, positive reviews might also signal places that are already popular, so maybe trying to get a good review from a critic isn’t all that important. I’d be interested to see what the data say.

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