Prime seats

Taking a short cruise down the Rhine in Germany this summer involved a rush to grab waterside seats on the open-air upper deck. A similar scenario was played out below, where those eating in the dining room sought tables next to the windows. Nobody wanted to be seated on the inside of the boat.

Get your towels in early for the best seat

It was the same story when we ate or had a coffee in the castles dotted along the steep-sided river valley. At the upmarket Romantik Hotel Schloss Rheinfels in St Gore, tables lining the edge of the sleek, glass-sided roof terrace were booked day and night.

The views along the river – whether on it or above it –were spectacular so it’s no surprise prime seats and tables commanded the most interest. What they didn’t command, however, was a greater price. Even though everybody wanted to sit in them and, in many cases, the ‘in-land’ tables were found unacceptable, with people moving on to another establishment, the prices for eating and drinking at all tables was the same.

It’s the same in all foodservice environments. There are premium and preferred tables in every dining room – whether they command views across the room, have greater privacy or are in the window – and the majority of people choose them if they have the option. There’s one particular table next to the bar in the atmospheric Andrew Edmonds in London that I always request – and luckily it has usually been available.

In reality the majority of my requests for specific tables – and it’s the same when asking for a particular hotel room – have been met by the same response: “We have made a note and will do our best, sir, but we can’t guarantee it.” Perhaps my requests are rarely met with approval because I’m not a regular at any specific venue – or famous.

The big question is whether I would pay a premium for securing a specific table? The answer is probably yes. However, whether I’d want to pay more than 10% of the total bill for the privilege, I’m not so sure. It would depend to some extent on the occasion. At present I don’t know any restaurant or bar that implements premium pricing for superior tables and seats.

This is definitely out of kilter with many other areas of the leisure industry because we are charged an array of prices for seats on aircraft, at sporting events and at the theatre – and I’m fine with such an arrangement. This has yet to feed through into the foodservice industry but perhaps we are on the cusp of change because our relationship with pricing and how we attribute value is evolving.

Part of this involves dynamic pricing, which is being tentatively introduced in various areas of the food and beverage industry. The Good Food Guide recently reported a number of restaurants employing such practices and cited The Man Behind The Curtain in Leeds, which charges £75 for its dinner menu from Tuesday to Thursday but raises it by £15 to £25 on peak days later in the week. At Bob Bob Ricard in Soho, diners enjoy a 20% reduction on their bill on Sundays and Mondays.

Dynamic pricing: coming to food near you?

Just Eat is also experimenting with dynamic delivery fees based on volumes, weather, events and delivery distances but care has to be taken because any perception the customer is being ripped off is met with an angry response. Remember when Uber introduced “surge” pricing in New York to massive public outcry? So for now, if you want a good view on a short river cruise, I recommend sharpening your elbows and showing no mercy to anybody in between you and that waterside seat.

Glynn Davis, editor of Retail Insider

This piece was originally published on Propel Info where Glynn Davis writes a regular Friday opinion piece. Retail Insider would like to thank Propel for allowing the reproduction of this column.