How to fix the disconnect in lunch and dinner services



We are a lunch restaurant that is very busy with a check average of $12 per guest.  We opened for dinner a few years ago and have had trouble getting the same crowd in at night.  The menu has some of the best sandwiches from lunch along with a handful of higher priced entrees.  We experience a disconnect between the two services and can't seem to get a cohesive crowd for dinner.  The restaurant is Modern American and the facility is very attractive.  Should we make our dinner menu more like the lunch menu, or should we add some of the dinner entrees to the lunch menu?  We would like your opinion about branding/cohesion for a restaurant where lunch always beats dinner revenues!

– Kathy, Owner, Starky’s Authentic Americana, Bozeman, MT


You answered your question about why your lunch and dinner services aren’t cohesive in your opening line, calling yourself a “lunch restaurant.” If you think of yourself as a lunch spot trying to maximize revenue by adding a daypart, your guests will likely think of it in the same way—as a great place for lunch that, by the way, has some dinner options (if they remember).

We have previously addressed adding a daypart in the other direction—adding breakfast service to lunch and dinner or lunch to dinner. One of the key points from that column was to consider how the additional daypart fits into the overall concept.

Going from dinner to lunch is somewhat easier in that you can give guests some appealing value—smaller portions, lower prices, quicker service, maybe a combo deal that includes a soft drink. Going in the opposite direction as a lunch concept adding dinner is harder—why should people pay more for a larger, slower sandwich?

My advice is to take a step back and start fresh with one cohesive concept. That is not to say you need to lose beloved items from the lunch menu but rather think of the restaurant as a whole and develop the menus accordingly in an effort to be a full-day concept. Try that and if it still doesn’t work, you may simply lack a dinner market based on other factors such as competition, commuting patterns, liquor license, or the food and service itself. But I think you’ll find thinking of yourself as a “restaurant” rather than as a “lunch restaurant,” and making your best managerial decisions accordingly, will be a bigger shift than you might imagine.

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