Placebo: A new idea for a restaurant


Categories: Personal

There was some research a while back which found a possibly-surprising result. As most people probably suspect, the difference in perceived quality between wines does not really follow price very closely. But! It does follow stated price; if you serve the same wine to a lot of people, and tell some of them it’s \$12 for a box and others it’s \$400 for a bottle, the latter like it better. Better yet, they’re right – they really do enjoy it more. Thank you, MRI scans and the like.


This leads to a concept: A restaurant called Placebo. What do they sell? A 50% discount. Which is to say: The entire menu is framed with everything at about twice the price you’d otherwise expect to pay for it, but then your check gets a 50% discount. So say you have a steak roughly of the same quality as the \$13 steaks at the Outback Steakhouse. The menu says \$26, your bill when it arrives has a 50% discount. But everything you order [b]feels[/b] expensive.

For extra credit, you could do interviews and arrange waiters to adopt personalities which suit the customers. Someone comes in who likes Good Wholesome Cooking? We can set you up with a waiter who thinks fancy food is ridiculous. Or, we can set you up with a waiter who is a total food snob, and you can have a wonderful meal knowing that the waiter is missing out on Good Wholesome Cooking. Your call.

The basic idea here is… people aren’t going out to eat for the food, they’re going out for the experience. Why not sell the experience as-such as the product? And thanks to some lovely research done on placebos in the 60s or so, we know that in some cases they work even if you know it’s a placebo – they’ve been shown to treat depression effectively even when explained.

(Note: If someone out there wants to actually do this, I waive all claims to ownership of the idea or whatever, but I’d love to hear about it if you try it.)

Comments [archived]

From: Nic
Date: 2012-01-18 06:27:49 -0600

When I lived in Brookline, MA about seven years ago, there was a sushi restaurant in Brookline Village that used exactly this pricing scheme. There was a huge “50% off sushi” banner outside that never came down.

From: Krys
Date: 2012-01-23 21:00:50 -0600

This may sound silly, but I’ve always said something along these lines.. I’ve told my sister (my eating buddy) that the food actually tastes better in ‘themed’ restaurants. I know that the food is probably the same junk served at both locations, but the experience of the place made it all the more.. satisfying, I guess you can say.

From: paula d
Date: 2012-01-24 11:09:51 -0600

it tastes good cuz restuarants cook everything in butter and lard, hence the awesome taste and resulting fata$$es all over the place

From: Good Idea
Date: 2012-06-07 19:16:21 -0500

This would work best on dates, where they guy knows the girl and the girl doesn’t know the placebo.