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A toolbox for boosting traffic? Really?

Restaurants are clearly confused about what tool to use for raising customer counts during the industry’s hottest season. Is it a knife, machete or other price-cutting blade, as was used by Buca di Beppo to slice the combined charge for two entrees by $20 over the weekend? Or is it a shovel, backhoe or similar device for loading patrons with enough food to make them think a higher ticket is worth it, vis-à-vis McDonald’s $9.99 Dinner Box (two Big Mac’s, two cheeseburgers, 10 McNuggets and four orders of fries) or T.G.I. Friday’s $10 bottomless appetizer plate?

It makes you wonder if what they really need is a hammer, to whack themselves in the head.

Fiddling with value is the default response of restaurants that count fewer guest transactions at the end of a night. It’s a head scratcher, and possibly a reason for head smacking, because the pheromone that truly seems to draw consumers is quality, not the blunt come-on of a bargain. After rating 96,208 meals from 65 chains, readers of Consumer Reports told the publication that food quality is what draws them to one quick-service chain instead of another.

That finding is borne out anecdotally. The industry front-runners in comparable store sales are Chipotle and Starbucks, brands that prosper by out-classing established competitors flashing lower prices. You could likely put Chick-fil-A in that class, too.

There are some chains taking a quality tack to bolstering traffic. Wendy’s has just resurrected its mega-popular Pretzel Bacon Cheeseburger to counter the July 4th doldrums. The sandwich stands for quality, using a pretzel bun instead of the usual fast-food-caliber foundation. Wendy’s figures it can sell the burger this time around for around $4.99, a 30-cent upswing from what the chain charged when the sandwich was offered for a limited time last year. Wendy’s said the sandwich lifted sales by three points during the second half of 2013.

Red Lobster, the in-limbo concept currently owned by Darden, is similarly taking a high-quality approach. It’s touting a line of lobster-garnished entrees priced at $15.99 and above. The lunch lure is a trio of lobster soft tacos for $10.

But most chains angling for traffic are lapsing back to price. Again. Mimi’s has a buy one/get one deal for lunch and dinner . Super Salad is offering coupons for a $5.99 buffet for the next two weeks.

Then there’s the one-of-a-kind deal that Chick-fil-A, clearly a premium brand, is offering solely for this Friday. Come dressed hoof to horns as a Chick-fil-A cow that day and you can Eat Mor Chiken for free.

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