Lockhart research reveals upscaling tableware benefits

Lockhart soup
This soup was one dish presented to consumers in the research in three different tableware sets.

Bunzl Lockhart Catering Equipment commissioned independent research agency ‘Zebra Square’ to investigate the effect of different quality tableware on consumers, as part of the distributor’s new i360 Innovation programme.

The research, carried out in September, demonstrated how consumers’ perceptions of how much they would be willing to pay for a wide range of food and drink when eating-out is directly affected by the type and quality of tableware it is served-on.

Results indicate that for some dishes a 20% price uplift could be achieved if exactly the same food was served on more innovative and stylish tableware.

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Bunzl Lockhart provided recommendations on how to present a range of popular food and drink menu choices to their best advantage with the aim of trying to establish whether this would actually have a measurable effect on consumers’ perception of price and quality.

15 separate dishes were selected covering starters, main courses, desserts and drinks with all of them being items likely to appear on the menus of typical high street restaurant and pub chains.

The dishes were then prepared, cooked and plated-up using three distinct quality levels of tableware. These ranged from Low (basic value for money white crockery, cutlery and glassware) through to Medium (mid-market brands with more style and innovation) and finally High (very stylish product ranges demonstrating the highest levels of innovation).

Exactly the same food and drink was used at all three quality levels and a consistent table-top background was used throughout. The only variable that changed was the tableware the food was actually served on.

All the dishes were then photographed and large images shown to 200 consumers who were selected on the basis that they regularly ate out and had a socio-demographic profile typical of customers of mid-market restaurants and pubs. 100 of the consumers looked at the images online and 100 were interviewed face-to-face.

The consumers were then asked to rank all the dishes on their three quality levels of tableware in terms of which looked the highest quality and most expensive, as well as how much they would expect to pay for the dish. To do this they were given price bands to select from based on typical high-street menu pricing.

When the results were analysed a number of conclusions were drawn:

  1. Consumers consistently ranked the dishes presented on ‘High’ level tableware as looking the highest quality and most expensive when compared to the dishes served on the Low and Medium level tableware.
  2. Consumers consistently valued the dishes presented on the ‘High’ level tableware at a higher price than the dishes presented on the Low and Medium level tableware.
  3. Overall the consumers valued dishes served on the High level tableware at a price level +12.5% more than the Low level tableware.
  4. The price uplift effect varied between the different types of dishes. Main courses showed the biggest uplift at +15.0% with some specific dishes recording an uplift of almost 20%. Desserts showed the smallest uplift at +7.6%. But all 15 dishes showed a clear perceived price uplift.
  5. The pricing uplift on two specific main courses (steak and chips and a fish dish) was on average over £2.
  6. Women consistently valued dishes at all 3 levels higher than men. For example for steak and chips the average price uplift was £2.41. But for women exclusively it was £2.99 and for men it was £1.85.

Paul Nieduszynski, MD of Bunzl Lockhart Catering Equipment commented: “This research with Zebra Square has proven that better tableware means better value to consumers.

“We’ve been working in partnership with major national restaurant and pub chains for many years now when they’ve wanted to bring some innovation to their tableware offering as part of an overall menu change. So we knew that tableware definitely had an effect on the consumers’ overall dining experience but we didn’t know that it could have such a direct and measurable effect.

“For a major operator, the opportunity to charge an extra £2 for every main course served will dwarf the relatively small investment in new tableware required to achieve this.”

Nicky Holmes, MD of Zebra Square said: “This has been a fascinating project to carry out. I think we all intuitively believe that presentation of food and drink impacts on quality and price perceptions but this research actually gives a monetary value to those perceptions.

“This means you can calculate the likely impact of any investment in tableware and glassware. We also saw some interesting differences in the views of older and younger respondents, males and females and north versus south.

“There is a message in there around knowing your audience and the prices they are willing to go to, but in the main consumers want eating out to feel different and more special than being at home, and the presentation is a great vehicle for this. My favourite example is the soup which just shows how a relatively basic choice can be transformed through presentation.”

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Clare Nicholls

The author Clare Nicholls

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