Offering value, not cutting corners, adds to diners’ good will toward restaurants

Offering value, not cutting corners, adds to diners’ good will toward restaurants

Like many journalists, I’ve never been all that great at math. But lately, given the tough economy, my division skills have gotten much sharper. As I try to make the most of less frequent trips to my favorite restaurants, I find myself justifying each splurge by averaging the cost over the number of meals I can squeeze out of my order.

When I bought a $10 lunch near the office and split it with a co-worker, I saved five bucks. And when some of the steak from last week’s $21 fajitas starred in my spinach salad the next day, the price no longer seemed so steep.

While it’s no secret that consumers and businesses alike are straining under the rising costs of food and energy, I refuse to believe that my only options are dollar menus at fast-food restaurants or PB&Js on the couch. I still have indulgent nights out, just not as often as I used to.

Now, a few chains are wisely beginning to reach out to frugal gourmets like me.

Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse and Wine Bar, for example, earlier this summer debuted LeftoverSteakRecipes.com , a site designed to help customers repurpose their uneaten meat into such next-day dishes as steak and eggs Benedict or spicy Thai beef noodles with cilantro, mint and ginger sauce.

Similarly, Olive Garden’s website features recipes and instructional cooking videos to help diners recreate the feel of a night at the chain’s restaurants in their own kitchens.

It may seem counterintuitive—giving patrons one more reason to stay home when restaurants are dying for traffic—but it’s a pretty ingenious way to keep your company in consumers’ minds, while sending a powerful brand message that you’re willing to meet us in the middle.

You’ll have far better luck standing shoulder-to-shoulder with consumers, rather than just looking for clever ways to eke every last dime from them.

I know I feel better about restaurants that help me eat well on a budget than, say, the one that recently delivered a downsized 16.9 ounce soda with my pizza—don’t think I didn’t notice—for the same price that used to get me 20 ounces.

No one’s disputing that it’s tough right now, and I don’t fault my favorite restaurants for raising their prices, but I’m also keeping track of the ones that help me get the most bang for my buck as well as the ones that make me feel swindled.

So when the economy eventually turns around and I’m feeling a little more flush, where do you think I’m more likely to spend my money?

Come on, even a journalist can do the math on that one.