For What Price A Beer on the Ring?

Austria is a beer-drinking country, but is also a country that has few open supermarkets during the main drinking hours. During the winter, Austrians crowd into warm bars to meet their drinking needs, but what about the warm, humid summers, where a cold beer outside is necessary? What fills the gap in demand during the main drinking hours of the day are a group of tiny stands known collectively as ‘Würstelstands’ (From hence I shall forego the umlaut!). These stands sell a variety of fast food (Wurstelstand means ‘sausage stand’, but the type of food sold at a stand can vary), as well as cold beer throughout the evening, night and early morn. They are particularly plentiful here in Vienna, where demand is highest. One thing that has always puzzled me about these Wurstelstands is the distribution of prices: at one stand a can will cost €2.50, while at another it will cost just €2.10. I have even seen some go as high as €2.80, or as low as €1.80. This is quite a high distribution in pricing for a product that is basically homogeneous: a 0.5 liter can of Austrian beer.

Click image for source (Photo by Gerald Reyes)

But what affects this pricing, from a theoretical perspective? Immediately we would assume location to play a big part: a Wurstelstand closer to the tourists in the 1st District could probably charge more than an isolated stand in the middle of Simmering. Competition might also play a role: often Wurstelstands are clustered together, within a few metres of each other, while others are isolated like our theoretical stand in Simmering. Some are positioned at key U-Bahn stations, which must have an effect on prices at some level. Does the type of Wurstelstand matter? There are three main types, namely (a) the traditional Sausage Stand, (b) the sleazy kebab stands, and (c) the mysterious modern ‘noodle stands’? Could the menus bottom-line feed back into the drinks pricing strategy?

I’ve thought a lot about this in the past 3 years since I’ve been here, and I would have to say these issues above seem to me to be most relevant. Recently, my curiosity got the better of me, and I decided to conduct a survey. Not wishing to visit every single Wurstelstand in Vienna, I narrowed the survey area to simply all stands on Vienna’s famous Ringstrasse, which is heavily populated by wurstelstands of all shapes and sizes. The main objective was to find the price in each Wurstelstand for a 0.5l can of Ottakringer beer. Ottakringer is a local Viennese beer, and would appear to be the most stocked beer by Wurstelstands across the city. In case the stand didn’t serve Ottakringer, I also took the price in each one for a ‘second beer’ (usually Wieselburger or Stiegl). I only surveyed actual Wurstelstands: the establishment had to be independent of a building or structure (ie, a hut). I thus hired a CityBike and spent an hour surveying the Wurstelstands of the Ring on each of the following variables:

Variable Description
Ottakringer Price of 0.5l can of Ottakringer
Second Beer Price of 0.5l can of next-priced beer
Type Sausage stand, Kebab stand, or noodle stand?
Cluster Is there another Wurstelstand within 10 metres?
U-Bahn Is it at an U-Bahn entrance?

 

Results

In total there were 23 Wurstelstands on the route, giving the following results for the total distribution of pricing for a 0.5l can of Ottakringer:

Summary Statistics Price (€)
Lowest Price 2
Highest Price 2.90
Average 2.38

So, as you can see, the prices do vary dramatically, from almost €2 in some places, to €2.90 elsewhere, for exactly the same product, in the same city, at the same time. Overall the average price of a can of Ottakringer along the Ring is almost €2.40. But what of the effect of my chosen variables on this price?

By choosing the Ring, I deliberately chose easily accessible Wurstelstands, therefore all but 3 of them are at U-Bahn exits, making the U-Bahn hypothesis redundant. Similarly the vast majority of the stands are in clusters (only two of them are in anyway isolated), so this level of analysis will too be left for another day (more of that later). One thing my 23 Wurstelstands do have is variety: there is a good mix in there, broken down as follows:

Wurstelstand Type Count
Kebap 9
Nudeln 4
Wurst 10
Total 23

It is pretty simple therefore to answer one of my original questions: if you have a choice of Wurstelstands to choose from, then which type should you buy your beer from?

 ottakringer

There were a lot less Noodle stands on the Ring in my sample, but the result does seem clear: they serve the cheapest beer, and yes, in more than one of those four places the Ottakringer costs €2. How they can afford to serve beer at such a lower price than their competitors more than likely is a result of lower expenditure on food quality, so the less said about that the better. Let’s just enjoy it for what it is.


 

Conclusion

Interesting, but not really very substantial. This survey is quite limited, as it merely surveys a specific, controlled part of the city, and therefore doesn’t really answer many of the questions about the price distribution of Wurstelstand beers that have been annoying me since I have been a resident of this city. More observations are needed, covering as much of the city as possible, and this is problematic since the data collection is quite labour-intensive. Truthfully, this topic was one of the first I ever came up with for Curves of Indifference (this blog you are reading), but I always kept it back because I couldn’t find a way to collect the data in a way that wouldn’t destroy my life, dignity, and intellectual credibility. Then recently, I realized that I have been getting a lot more visitors to this site, mostly from Vienna (thanks), and the answer hit me: I can ask you guys to do it for me.

Wieners and Wienerinnens are reading this from every part of the city, from basically every district (that matters), and all I have to do is walk them through a simple research design in order to show them how easy, and informative, it would be if you all told me something about your local Wurstelstand. So that’s what this all was: me elaborating a problem, defining some variables and then performing the analysis on a controlled environment. Now I need your help: What price is a can of Ottakringer in your local Wurstelstand? If you want to help, send me this, as well as all my other variables from the Ring example.

Variable Description
Ottakringer Price of 0.5l can of Ottakringer
Second Beer Price of 0.5l can of next-priced beer
Type Sausage stand, Kebab stand, or noodle stand?
Cluster Is there another Wurstelstand within 10 metres?
U-Bahn Is it at an U-Bahn entrance?
District 1010, 1020, 1030 etc
Address Street coordinates, if possible
Name Name of Wurstelstand, if it has one

If you can handle a spreadsheet, please enter the info here on Google Docs. If you couldn’t be bothered with the spreadsheet, just send me the info. Please also send me the name of the Wurstelstand (if it has one), or the approximate address so I can eliminate any duplicate entries! Once I have around 15-20 entries for a district, I can publish the results just like I did here, and together, we can finally answer the Viennese riddles of the century: why the hell does a beer in that sausage stand cost 30 cent less than the one I bought at that kebab stand beside it? Should I buy a beer in that noodle stand, or the adjacent kebab stand? And finally, should I cross the canal into the 2nd district to buy my Wurstelstand beer, rather than get basically robbed by the scammers of 1st District Wurstelstandmen? Together, we can answer all of these questions, and more.

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