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The High Price for (Gluten) Freedom

February 2015 Pricing

I recently read an article (http://tiny.cc/13fltx) about a woman suing P.F. Chang’s for charging $1.00 more for gluten free menu items. The basis of her lawsuit is that this is discrimination against Americans with disabilities. Whether being gluten free is a disability or not is not what I would like to discuss here. What I’d like to cover is price discrimination and why PF Chang’s should charge their gluten free customers more.

Legally, price discrimination is charging different prices to different customer segments for the same product. So by definition charging more for gluten free items is not price discrimination, in a legal sense at least. For this instance to be considered price discriminatory in the law, PF Chang’s would have to be serving up identical dishes to gluten free and non-gluten free customers and charging that extra buck to the wheat free crowd. (At least, to the best of our understanding.)

pf_chang

Why Gluten Free Should Cost More…Time is Money

Restaurants that offer allergy free foods are doing a great service to their customers and for this they should be charging more money. Chefs have to clean out everything when preparing these items, change out the equipment, wipe down all surfaces and change their gloves. This process takes extra time and on a busy night in a restaurant, time is money. Where they could have been preparing multiple items they now can only prepare the gluten free items to prevent cross contamination. In all professions and industries, more time consuming processes typically yield higher prices. Fair? I think so. Let’s continue.

Price Match

PF Chang’s isn’t the only one charging more for the wheat free items. Gluten free items are more expensive at the grocery store too. Compare a loaf of gluten free bread with a loaf of gluten full bread. Gluten free bread is on average, in Chicago where I live, $5.00 for 14 slices. I eat gluten free bread so I haven’t done much research besides walking into a Walgreens, but the average loaf of gluten full bread is nowhere near $5.00 and it comes with more slices. Each serving of gluten free costs more money no matter where you buy it. If restaurants want to serve gluten free items they need to use gluten free ingredients and these cost more money so the restaurant charges more money. This makes perfect sense to me.

Is it WORTH it?

And last but certainly not least is the fact that the gluten free customers see the value in these gluten free items. Clearly they do and have been paying the $1.00 without much hesitation or PF Chang’s would take these items off of their menu. As someone who is gluten free (as much as is humanly possible. I have weaknesses on top of my psoriasis, so sometimes a skin flare up is worth that tray of brownies…when I do gluten I do it BIG.) I appreciate it when a restaurant offers gluten free items such as buns and pastas.

Because I eat gluten free at home as well, I understand that my box of quinoa noodles costs about three times as much as a box of Barilla. I happily pay the upcharge to eat a burger with a bun and feel like a real person rather than chasing down a bun-less hotdog rolling around on my plate with my fork. I think being able to go out with my friends and family and enjoy a meal that I know won’t make my skin red and itchy is worth that $1.00, and if it wasn’t I would stay home and cook my more expensive gluten free groceries.

In Conclusion

There is absolutely no reason that a restaurant should not be charging more for gluten free menu items. They take more time to prepare, the gluten free ingredients cost the restaurant more money than the standard ingredients, and a lot of customers see the value in being able to enjoy a gluten free burger bun or General Chang’s chicken with their friends and family — and are therefore willing to shell out the extra buck for it. There is nothing discriminatory about pricing specialty items higher. PF Chang’s, I thank you for bringing gluten free goodness to the world of dining out.



About the author

Mary DeBoni is a Senior Pricing Analyst at Wiglaf Pricing. Before coming to Wiglaf Pricing, Mary spent her post-graduate-school years working as a data analyst and as an adjunct instructor of Economics and Statistics at Moraine Valley Community College and Richard J. Daley College. Mary is a member of the Professional Pricing Society. She holds a BA in Economics from Michigan State University and an MA in Economics from The University of Detroit Mercy.

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