Consider the lobster roll
Why Americans pay more for lunch
THIS SUMMER Pret A Manger, purveyor of sandwiches to desk-workers in the white-collar cities of the West, added lobster rolls to its menu. In Britain they cost £5.99 ($7.31); in America $9.99. In both countries they are filled with lobster from Maine, along with cucumber, mayonnaise and more. Rent and labour cost about the same in London as in downtown New York or Boston. Neither sticker price includes sales tax. Yet a Pret lobster roll in America is a third pricier than in Britain, even though the lobster comes from nearer by.
今年夏天，为欧美的白领上班族供应三明治的Pret A Manger在菜单中加上了龙虾卷。其售价在英国是5.99英镑（7.31美元），在美国是9.99美元。这两个国家的龙虾卷都裹着缅因州的龙虾，配黄瓜和蛋黄酱等。伦敦的租金、劳动力成本和纽约或波士顿市中心差不多。两国的标价都不包括销售税。尽管美国离龙虾产地更近，但Pret龙虾卷在那里的售价却比英国贵了三分之一。
This Pret price gap is not limited to lobster rolls. According to data gathered by The Economist on the dozen Pret sandwiches that are most similar in the two countries, the American ones cost on average 74% more (see chart). An egg sandwich in New York costs $4.99 to London’s £1.79, more than double. A tuna baguette costs two-thirds more. The price mismatch is intriguing—the more so for The Economist, which publishes the Big Mac index, a cross-country comparison of burger prices, which shows a 43% transatlantic disparity.
Pret存在价差的菜品并不只有龙虾卷。本刊收集的两国最为相似的12种Pret三明治的数据显示，美国的定价比英国平均高出74%（见图表）。一个鸡蛋三明治在纽约售价4.99美元，比伦敦的1.79英镑高出一倍多。一条金枪鱼法棍三明治则要贵三分之二。这种价格的差异很有意思。作为巨无霸指数（Big Mac index）的发布者，本刊对此尤其感兴趣。巨无霸指数比较了汉堡包在各国的售价，结果显示大西洋两岸的价差达到43%。
Menu pricing starts with a simple rule, says John Buchanan of the consulting arm of Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises, a restaurant group: take the cost of ingredients and multiply by three. Then ask yourself how much customers would expect to pay for a dish of this type, and how much they would expect to pay for it from you. A Pret lobster roll and one from a fancy seafood restaurant are quite different propositions. Lastly, check what the competition charges. “Only a small part of this decision is what I would call scientific,” says Mr Buchanan. “A lot has to do with a subjective judgment of what the market will bear.”
餐饮集团Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises咨询部门的约翰·布坎南（John Buchanan）表示，菜单定价的起始规则很简单，就是将原料成本乘以三。然后再问问自己：顾客会花多少钱买这道菜，又会花多少钱从你这里买这道菜。Pret的龙虾卷和高档海鲜餐厅的龙虾卷就完全是两码事。最后，还要看竞争对手的售价。“我认为这种定价决策只有一小部分是科学的，”布坎南说，“它有很大一部分是基于对市场承受力的主观判断。”
The lunch market is local. New Yorkers do not care about prices in London. And they—alongside Bostonians and Washingtonians—are used to their local high prices, for reasons that include bigger portions (though not at Pret) and tipping habits. Londoners are keener on sandwich lunches, which means stiffer competition in that part of the market.
Often lunch prices vary by neighbourhood. jd Wetherspoon, a British pub chain, prides itself on low prices, but allows them to differ by branch. In 2017 the Financial Times found that the most expensive Spoons charged over 40% more than the cheapest one. They also vary by time: many restaurants charge more for dinner than for lunch. Perceptions of value for money are relative not absolute. For Pret’s lobster rolls, it’s a case of claws and effect.