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A web study of nearly 500 U.S.-based respondents compared three possible formats for presenting the service charges for a prix fixe meal, namely, as a percentage added to the meal price, as a dollar amount added to the meal price, and as an unknown amount obscured by inclusion in the full meal price. For those who received a single price only (with an unstated service charge), the respondents estimated a mean service charge just over 13 percent, which is reasonably close to inferring the commonly applied 15-percent service charge. The respondents thought that a 12-percent added charge was good value, but when the stated service charge was higher than the conventional 15 percent they viewed the meal as a bad deal compared to the meal with the unknown service charge included. Survey participants regarded the dollar-amount service charges similarly, but this format also may serve to obscure the service-charge calculation. The chief implication for restaurants is that even with a prix fixe menu, guests are making value calculations at all times, and the service charge is one of those value issues—one that seems to stick out in customers’ minds.


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