RESTAURANTS ARE struggling with their price policies, as business grows sluggish and diners resist high prices. But cutting prices is tricky, and restaurateurs fear losing customers' confidence in the process.
Tragara in Bethesda has devised a new strategy for price cutting. It has opened a restaurant within a restaurant. At dinner Tragara is the same luxurious restaurant it has always been, but at lunch the upstairs stays upscale while the downstairs is transformed into "Tavola in Bethesda" (the other Tavola being the less expensive, next-door offspring of Terrazza in Alexandria).
Only the menu is changed. Preparations are more simple, ingredients are less exotic and portions are smaller than at Tragara. Soups start at $1.50, appetizers are $2.95, pastas are $5.95 and main dishes are $6.95. Even pastries are only $1.50, and the house wine is $1.95 a glass. The Tavola menu doesn't run to lobster, but includes fresh salmon -- grilled or with pasta -- and veal dishes as well as homier catfish and chicken.
This is a menu for the '90s, says chef Michel Laudier. "People are watching their weight and wallets."
ANOTHER interesting pricing policy is the sushi special at Sapporo in Georgetown. During its weekday happy hours, from 5 to 7 p.m., a` la carte sushi is half-price after the first three orders. It's just the ticket if eating sushi makes you want more sushi. Instead of ordering just one more, you can indulge yourself in two more at the same price.
AMONG CHEFS playing musical chairs this season is Larbi Dahrouch, who is no longer at Jean-Pierre but hasn't settled in anyplace new yet. Last I heard, he was looking to open his own restaurant, planning to feature French food inspired by his longtime mentor, Jean-Louis Palladin, but showing more of his North African accent.
LOVE CONQUERS all. The opening of the Macomb Street branch of Lauriol Plaza has been delayed at least until the end of October, in the name of romance.
"The people working there, they went to Spain to a wedding," explained a spokesman at the 18th Street branch. And they stayed four weeks. At last check, construction had stopped, to be resumed when they return.
Phyllis C. Richman's restaurant reviews appear Sundays in The Washington Post Magazine.