It must suck to own Luby’s. On the one hand, management must deal with downward pricing pressure in a hyper-competitive market. On the other hand it is certainly dealing with spiraling costs for raw materials and employee benefits.
And then there is that pesky fight for control of the company between the Pappas Brothers, who are the majority shareholders, and other large shareholders. To put up with all that, the Pappas Brothers must really love Luby’s.
And so do I. But my life-long affection for the Lu Ann platter continues to be challenged by what seems like a never-ending series of price increases at Luby’s. Just last week the price of the Lu Ann went for $7.69 to $8.09. With all the competition out there for my food dollar, not to mention the option of cooking a pleasurable meal at home, can Luby’s survive when a basic meal there is pushing 10 bucks? Maybe. Here’s why.
I’ve been a loyal customer of Luby’s since I was old enough to sit in a high chair. You could say I’ve seen the good and I’ve seen the bad over the years. The bad? The aforementioned price increases. It wasn’t but a few years ago that the Lu Ann was $5.99. And staffing issues. I’ve seen long time employees who I’ve become friendly with choose to leave, presumably due to negative changes in their work agreement. That of course makes room for younger and more inexperienced (and more inexpensive) staff. The Luby’s staff at the location I frequent, on W. Gray and Waugh, is invariably friendly and helpful. And yet some of them are so inexperienced it is obvious they don’t even know how to calculate change on the fly. And I always–always–check my order before leaving with a to-go order.
And the good? First and foremost, the quality of the food at Luby’s (at least at my location) is consistently above-average. The management is obviously hands-on when it comes to quality control. From what I’ve observed, the managers at my Luby’s location take their job seriously and work very hard.
And that’s what keeps me going back. Frankly, $8.09 for a good quality, as-close-to-a-home-cooked-meal-as-you-can-get is still a very good value. Unfortunately I’m not sure everyone will agree with me or be as loyal as me.
Here is what worries me about Luby’s. The Pappas Brothers have zero margin for error, specifically in the quality control area. Personally, if I ever felt the quality of the food was declining, I would be out of there in a heartbeat. 30 years of loyal patronage be damned. But if the Pappas Brothers were indeed faced with the decision of either raising prices or decreasing quality, they have made the absolute right decision in raising prices. So, at least for now, I’ll head to Luby’s for lunch–Lu Ann Fried Fish this time probably–and pray for it to be as good as ever.