Food

Matchbox lowers menu prices to get back to the concept's roots

A value proposition is core to this metro Washington, D.C.-based casual-dining concept, and the new menu builds guest volume with affordable, chef-inspired food.
matchbox restuarant
Value was the ultimate goal in the revamp of matchbox's spring/summer menu. | Photos courtesy of Thompson Restaurants.

The belief that there are more people who want to spend $20 or less for a meal than those who want to spend more has been at the core of matchbox restaurants from the start.

“At matchbox we believe our value proposition is our sweet spot and serves as the biggest differentiator between us and our competition,” said Mumia Fatiu, VP of operations for matchbox’s parent company, Thompson Restaurants. “When it was time to create a spring/summer menu, we went back to our roots, balancing approachability, quality and price. I’d rather have a discounted check at 100% of tables than have empty tables. We’re betting that good food at an affordable price will increase guest traffic over time.”

With 13 “sophisticated casual-dining” restaurants under the brand, matchbox attracts customers looking for chef-inspired food and a good time. The concept offers many ways and occasions to feed both of those cravings with its new value-driven menu.

It begins with a list of five Starters under $14, down from the previous price of $16, with several plated to share. There’s a hot spinach-artichoke dip, calamari, mozzarella arancini and a Pepperoni and Meatball Roll—an original great that is now back on the menu. “It’s a way to have pizza as a starter,” said Fatiu. A popular slider sampler of three 2-ounce Angus beef burgers with onion straws is also in the Starters lineup.

Some of these items, such as the hot spinach-artichoke dip and arancini, transition to the Happy Hour menu, where food items are $8 to $10—including the crowd-favorite smash burger—all cocktails are $10 and beers are as low as $5.

cocktails

$10 cocktails offer a solid value proposition during Happy Hour and build traffic. 

In time for patio season, matchbox rolled out several seasonal Happy Hour drinks, including the best-selling Patio Pounder Lemonade (lemonade, watermelon-infused vodka and fresh watermelon) and the new Jalapeno Cucumber Margarita. “Since we lowered prices and revamped the menu, Happy Hour now accounts for 8% of sales,” said Fatiu.

Wood-fired pizzas have been a matchbox signature since the concept launched 20 years ago, and there’s a deep selection of 14 pies, including two seasonal ones that rotate in. For spring/summer, those are a Pepperoni + Hot Honey with vodka sauce, pepperoni, mozzarella, hot honey and basil, and the Sausage + Peppers with garlic, tomato sauce, Italian sausage, roasted red peppers, mozzarella and ricotta. Pizza prices range from $16 to $24 with two size options.

pizza

Wood-fired pizzas are part of matchbox's DNA, on the menu since the concept launched in 2003. 

Fatiu and the team are also bringing brunch back to its former glory. “We started with brunch when we talked about adding value back to the menu. Matchbox used to be known as the best brunch in metro-D.C., so we took the brunch menu apart and rebuilt it. We now have lines out the door again,” he said.

The menu targets the restaurants’ diverse brunch customer, offering everything from eggs Benedict and blueberry pancakes to huevos rancheros, shrimp and grits and chicken and waffles. Prices run $14 to $22, with only the steak and eggs going higher at $38. With its large portions and lively vibe, brunch has also proven to be good for guest acquisition, Fatiu noted.

Price is also a selling point for the Sweets section of the menu; all are under $10. “Instead of a huge dessert menu, we offer five desserts, with four of them made in house. Less is more,” said Fatiu. Strawberry shortcake, cheesecake with blueberry sauce and the giant Chocolate S’mores made in the wood-burning oven are among the standouts. “Dessert sales have gone from 3% to 4½% in four weeks," he added.

S'mores

The house-made $10 Chocolate S'Mores is baked in the wood-burning pizza oven and big enough for sharing. 

While protein-centric entrees are pricier, matchbox recently boosted the value of its ribeye. “During COVID, the cost of beef skyrocketed, so we reduced the size of the steak to 12 ounces. Now it’s back to 14 ounces, so we’re giving back 2 ounces to the customer and charging the same $38,” said Fatiu. “Commodities are starting to come down and we want to pass that savings on to our guests.” Cross-utilization of ingredients across all the menu parts also helps control costs.

The restaurants are large, ranging between 250 and 350 seats, but Fatiu believes that matchbox’s value proposition will keep tables full and the volume of guests will make up for lower prices.

“We are a neighborhood restaurant where guests can have a great experience for $20,” he said. “I hope more restaurants follow suit.”

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