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Menu Pricing for Maximum Profit

Setting menu prices at the right level is a crucial element in the success of a restaurant. Janet Harmer speaks to one restaurateur who got it wrong and others who have pitched it perfectly

Restaurateur Patricia Douglas is learning the hard way. Having achieved considerable success in the insurance industry, she and her husband, James, decided to seek a new challenge and plough their money and time into realising their dream of running a restaurant.

For someone who had no experience of working in the hospitality industry, Douglas's plans were ambitious. She wanted to create the kind of luxury dining experience that can be found just half-an-hour away in central London.

Douglas believed that the affluent residents of the picturesque village of Limpsfield in Surrey would want to indulge in the same kind of eating-out experience that they enjoyed in the capital. Having purchased the full-repairing lease for �115,000, she and her husband spent a further �200,000 revitalising the 16th-century building that was once a school.

Alexanders subsequently opened as a 45-seat restaurant with an adjoining 25-seat brasserie in November 2006. However, while the new interior - a mix of original dark wooden panelling and leaded windows with a sleek, contemporary decor - looked stylish, and chef Simon Attridge had culinary ambitions that matched those of the owners, the menu prices swiftly scared off the punters.

With no set-price menu, customers were faced with a choice of � la carte dishes that came with price tags which, for a new restaurant with no established reputation, can only be described as stratospheric. Think �9-�16 for starters, �17-�26 for main courses and �7-�10 for puds. With wine, water and coffee added on, average spend in the early weeks was �80-�85 per head.

Alexanders' pricing structure was strongly criticised by food critic Jay Rayner after a lunch visit in February on a day when there were only five other customers. In his review for the Observer, he described the prices as "big fat ones of the sort that make the wallet recoil like a small lad's testes on hitting icy water".

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