Briefly: You have a very clever way to get customers to spend a lot of money, because everyone orders off trolley carts (without prices) rather than off menus. Guests choose their dishes after making an emotional, visual connection with the food, rather than making a rational decision based on the price. That all said, I dig it and award TWO STARS in my review for Eater.
Yet another sad story about how BIG FARMERS can weather tough conditions while the small farmers cannot. This time, it’s a product of the California drought, which has helped pushed avocado prices up to $1.28 each, up 29% over this week last year.
The Modern is one of Danny Meyer’s most successful restaurants. It gets more business than Gramercy Tavern, Maialino, North End Grill or Union Square Cafe. It’s not where one would expect Meyer to lower his entry-level price by $10, or slash the tasting menu down to five-courses.
But that’s exactly what he did, even amid our era of rising food prices and ninety-course tasting menus. It’s less a story about money though, and more a story about saving people time.
Check out my full EATER ESSAY right here, good peoples!
This short documentary will survey the custom of tipping and what it means for fair wage, discrimination, and women’s issues.
YOU GUYS let’s make this happen? A young filmmaker, Anna Savittieri, is gonna make a movie about one of our favorite topics, TIPPING. She’s set a goal of $1,550 and has raised $250 so far. She’s fixin’ to visit Boston, DC, New York and Chicago to interview service industry workers. Tipping is a BIG DEAL, as the hospitality industry is the second-largest private sector employer in the United States, providing work for more than 13 million people, many of whom earn the tipped minimum of just $2.13/hour.
This issue is particularly significant as restaurants like Sushi Yasuda have moved to abolish tipping, and as efforts to raise the tipped minimum have faltered. So we hope Savittieri raises her Kickstarter goal many times over and gives us some serious film making!
The Many Prices of Elizabeth For The Same Meal. We Dig It, Baby.
Iliana Regan has some serious tattoos, a Michelin star, and wicked future ahead of her. She is a real deal forager, serving up fried lichens, raccoon snausages, and the broth of freshly killed deer. And house made Cheerios. It’s all part of the loooong tasting at Elizabeth Restaurant on Chicago’s North Side. Expect 17-plus courses.
“You go into Carbone, and the whole thing is so fake…I went for dinner and I was embarrassed to be there”—
Says Sean MacPheron in an interview with The New York Times. He’s the guy behind Waverly Inn, which sells $55 truffled mac & cheese to celebrities. He’s also the guy who’s allowing Tao, a Buddha-themed restaurant that sells $88 Wagyu ribeye to tourists, to open underneath his Maritime Hotel.
So to be fair, the dude clearly knows a thing or two about fake.
Benu, a two Michelin-starred San Francisco restaurant that’s famous for its faux-shark’s fin soup, has raised the price of dinner by $15 to $195. So a meal for two, after tax and tip, will now cost $502, or $888 after wine pairings — quite an auspicious number! All-in-all it’s a modest 8% hike. Also, Benu now no longer offers an a la carte menu.
The $195 prix-fixe is more or less in line with what other two-Michelin-starred restaurants in The Bay Area are charging for long tastings. Coi is $175; Atelier Crenn asks $180; Manresa is $185; Saison is $248. And $195 is also what Atera charges in New York, as does Blanca. Will Guidara and Daniel Humm’s Eleven Madison Park used to ask $195, but recently HIKED its price to $225, which is what Benu would like to charge, as we’ll learn below.
Benu’s chef-owner Corey Lee was nice enough to chat with us about his new pricing, about his decision to go tasting menu-only, and the debate over tipping. Here’s our conversation, which took place over email on Thursday:
Even in New York, the land of $200 tasting menus, $150 wine-pairings and $20 cocktails, there’s something eyebrow-raising about Alder, an East Village pub hawking pigs-in-a-blanket for $13. You’re skeptical because they recall the pastry-wrapped franks your uncle buys for $10 at Wal-Mart so he can force them upon you on Thanksgiving. For that familial pleasure, you, the consumer, pay nothing. And the portion size is all-you-can-eat.
At Alder, you get six bites. Stack them from end-to-end and they won’t even equal the length of a Nathan’s foot long. And yet you’re paying $17 after tax and tip, about three times the price of a ballgame hot dog, which is already too much for a hot dog. More practically, you’re paying about 1,000 percent more than a $1.25 Gray’s Papaya Dog.
So mentally, you deal with all that. And then you try Alder’s $13 treats. And you smile. Because they’re the best pigs-in-a-blanket you’ve ever had, anywhere. And that’s why Alder is the subject of my 2.5 star Bloomberg News review today. Chefs Wylie Dufresne and Jon Bignelli are getting us to pay a few bucks more for elevated pub food, just as Alex Stupak gets us to pay more for refined Mexican fare, just as Danny Bowien gets us to pay more for take-out-style Chinese-American fare, and just as Mario Carbone and Rich Torrisi get us to pay a HECK OF A LOT MORE for Italian-American fare.
I can’t stress how awesome and important this all is, because what’s happening at Alder and all those other venues makes our current culinary times such gosh darn exciting times. These chefs are taking so-called ethnic foods, or in the case of Dufresne and Bignelli, regional American snack foods, and they’re extricating these tradition and nostalgia-based cuisines from the burden of being cheap. What they’re doing, for lack of a better term, is the future of food. Rock on.
“According to the Congressional Budget Office, nearly four million people would be removed from the food stamp program under the House bill. A Census Bureau report released on Tuesday found that the food stamp program had kept about four million people above the poverty level and had prevented millions more from sinking further into poverty.”—The House bill passed, cutting $40 billion from the food stamp program. President Obama has threatened to veto the measure. (Source: NYT).
Don’t Compare Chef Hooni Kim’s Korean Restos to Koreatown Restos, Dammit.
Hooni Kim, chef at Manhattan’s Michelin-starred Danji and critically-acclaimed Hanjan, tweeted in August that guests should stop comparing his food to the (presumably) cheaper fare at Koreatown restaurants on 32nd Street. Kim’s tweets piqued our interest because his prices are modest; almost every dish at both of his restaurants is under $20. So last week, we asked Kim if he could do an email Q&A to find out what the fuss was about.
Here’s our conversation:
How often do guests complain about your prices?Most of my negative (3 or less stars) Yelp reviews are about the prices and portions. The complaints directed at me from customers is why at similar prices the portions in Koreatown are twice as large. Why we charge for rice. Why we don’t serve banchan for free as they do in k-town. Basically why we charge more to serve the same Korean food as k-town. My answer is usually the same that we serve better ingredients which cost more so we need to charge more.
The three-year old Journeyman in Somerville is scrapping its prix-fixe-only model for a tasting menu-only service with no menu, Eater Boston reports. Pricing used to be $65 for five-courses or $85 for seven-courses. Now you get 9-12 dishes for $75, a de facto PRICE HIKE for those who used to order the cheaper menu. The new format will be VEGETABLE-FOCUSED, Boston Magazine writes.
The Somerville spot will continue to offer a $40 menu three nights a week during the off-hours. Click through for the deets.
Batali's Del Posto Raises Prices & Wages (Updated)
Mario Batali’s most expensive restaurant will soon start charging its customers more and paying its staff more.
Del Posto, the chef’s Michelin-starred Italian spot in Manhattan’s West Chelsea district, will raise its minimum wage to $10 for non-tipped employees in October, general manager Jeff Katz tells The Price Hike. Because of the higher labor costs, and because of rising food costs, Del Posto will increase the price of its five-course dinner menu to $126, an $11 hike, and its tasting menu to $179, a $14 hike. Lunch will remain at $39.
"If you have a dishwasher who’s making eight bucks, that guy’s going to a see a $2 increase," Katz said, adding that the raise will be "sizable for a lot of the people it’s going to affect."
The new minimum will mainly benefit dishwashers, porters, prep cooks, butchers and those who handle linens, said Katz. “We hope it can help us reward some of the staff that had been with us for a long time and just get closer to the living wage, which, depending on who you ask, $10 is that number.” The new minimum does not apply to tipped workers at Del Posto, who already “do quite well,” according to Katz.
Individual restaurants don’t typically release pay data for competitive reasons, but Katz’s remarks generally fall into line with wage estimates calculated by the U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics.
Torrisi, a Michelin-starred Manhattan restaurant that originally charged $45 for a progressive meal of Italian-American fare in a bare-bones environment, has moved even further in the direction of fine-dining, raising the price of lunch and dinner to $100.
The longer 8-10 course menu is a $20 hike from this summer’s price of $80, or a $30 hike from the former lunch price of $70. The extended 20-course tasting, which once reached $160, is no longer available. So the REAL COST of a meal for two at Torrisi, after tax and tip, is now $258, or $412 after wine pairings, which start at $60.
Jeff Zalaznick, a partner with Rich Torrisi and Mario Carbone at The Major Food Group, explained the changes in an email to The Price Hike:
Blue Hill’s Dan Barber on The Perils of The Farm-to-Table Cooking.
Here’s the first of what will be an ongoing series of Price Hike interviews about how chefs at some of the world’s most expensive restaurants are reducing their reliance on (large portions of) animal proteins and instead finding luxury in vegetables and grains.
This phenomenon, which I’d argue is a magnificent one, (we’re all tired of eating giant slabs of pork belly), was the subject of my feature story in this autumn’s edition of Bloomberg Pursuits. It’s a story that’s been brewing inside me since my last meal at Dan Barber’s Blue Hill at Stone Barns in 2011. That dinner, priced at $208pp before wine, tax, or tip, was the first time I had a long, expensive tasting menu that was bereft of significant portions of meat. Briefly: I liked it, a lot. Even though I was a hint confused at first.
"Did I really pay that much for vegetables?," I remember thinking.
This is why Barber was one of the first chefs I turned to when researching my Pursuits piece. You’ll find him quoted throughout the story, but since he had so much to say (and since I only had 1,600 words), I thought I’d use The Price Hike to publish the first half of my July telephone interview with the nationally-renowned chef. Barber speaks about the perils of the so-called farm-to-table model, about the impact of vegetable-heavy menus on the “bank account” of the soil, and about why he serves a ton of beef in the fall.
I began my conversation with Barber by asking him to respond to this quote from David Kinch, the chef at the vegetable-heavy Manresa:
"I get asked all the time, ‘you grow your own vegetables, you must be saving money.’ We are spending three times more money than if we were shopping at farmers markets and picking up the phone and calling a produce company…What I also found out is that it’s not cheaper cooking vegetables. There is a tremendous amount of work from cleaning, cutting and prepping, just as much as with meat or fish." (Source: Find. Eat. Drink.)
"The rent has climbed, our loyal staff earns more, the feds stopped the payroll tax holiday, and good ingredients aren’t getting cheaper,” as the East Village restaurant explains on its website. As such, Northern Spy has increased the price of affordable three-course Sunday supper by a modest $3.
Still a BUY? You bet it is. Sunday supper for two now comes to a REAL COST of $70 after tax & tip. Add on wine, and you’re probably at $100 or thereabouts. Click through for the restaurants’ full explanation. Props to Christophe Hille and the good people behind Northern Spy for being so transparent about the price increase!
“Give people what they want. When they want it. In the form they want it in. At a reasonable price. And they’ll more likely pay for it rather than steal it.”—Says Kevin Spacey in a brilliant speech championing Netflix, “House of Cards,” and the ridiculous amount of money wasted on making pilots.
The Price Hike brings some of its signature REAL COST action over to Bloomberg Pursuits, where we calculate what it costs to eat the haute-veggies at Meadowood, Manresa, Saison, Coi, Blue Hill at Stone Barns and elsewhere.
We also mention a not-so-great veggie-heavy meal at the young Juni in Midtown Manhattan, where the $180 tasting menu yielded very few pleasures on a recent visit. Shaun Hergatt’s overdressed garden salad, an ode of sorts to Michel Bras’ famed Le Gargouillou plate of 40-60 herbs, leaves and flowers, was about as enjoyable as the free salads they hand out before a chicken teriyaki meal at Benihana. Which is another way of saying, yeah, it tasted kind of okay. But not for $180.
“One night I’d rolled in like a drug dealer, hundreds of dollars stuffed in my pocket because I knew the Pines didn’t take credit cards…To settle the check at the end of a long, slow night, I needed about $100 more than I had brought. I knew from the Web site that there was an A.T.M. in the restaurant. It was broken.”—NYT critic Pete Wells pens a brilliant note about the ignominies of expensive cash-only restaurants. The Pines, alas, now takes Visa and Mastercard. But no American Express. Let’s hope the no Amex policy changes soon. If you’re going to charge Manhattan prices, you have to take Manhattan currency, baby.
“High prices became an important part of lobster’s image. And, as with many luxury goods, expense is closely linked to enjoyment. Studies have shown that people prefer inexpensive wines in blind taste tests, but that they actually get more pleasure from drinking wine they are told is expensive. If lobster were priced like chicken, we might enjoy it less.”—The New Yorker pens a clever piece about how restaurants command top dollar for lobster amid record low wholesale prices.
“[White] fish is becoming more and more scarce. It comes primarily from the Great Lakes—some are from the Canadian Lakes—and this whole global warming thing affects fish. The fish have become leaner in size and leaner in quantity, and that predicates a higher price. Whitefish could become extinct not too far down the road, which would be a really sad thing.”—
An interesting theory about the rising price of whitefish, courtesy of Gary Greengrass, owner of Barney Greengrass, a high-end delicatessen on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.
Click through for the full interview on First We Feast. Greengrass also chats about the rising price of sablefish (i.e. black cod), which of course is due to the enormous popularity of that delicacy at Nobu and other high-end venues in America, Japan, Britain and elsewhere.
“On Saturday nights we offer our regular menu, which is an eight-course menu and it’s $180. On Tuesdays, we offer a five-course menu and it’s $95. Although there’s a few more courses on Saturday, it’s nearly half the price on Tuesday, and I think that’s definitely an attractive proposition for people.”—
Ben Shewy, the general manager Australia’s Attica (a name that probably wouldn’t work in New York), talks to the good people at Eater about his restaurant’s variable pricing model.
Alinea, Next and Elizabeth in Chicago all serve tasting menus whose price depends on the night of the week, but Attica in Melbourne is the first restaurant we know of outside the United States who does so as well. In other words, expect to see more of this, everywhere.
Now technically, true variable pricing is offering the same menu at a different price, but this is a unique enough situation where I’d argue we can expand the definition a bit.
Attica debuted on the “World’s Best Restaurants” list at #21.
Blanca, the twelve-seat, tasting menu-only counterpart to Roberta’s in Bushwick, has raised its price by $15 to $195, as we first reported last week. So dinner at the year-old-spot, before wine, is as spendy as at Eleven Madison Park or Atera, as well at Le Bernardin, for those who order the $195 chef’s tasting.
The REAL COST of eating at Blanca, after tax and 20% percent tip, now starts at $503. Add $95 beverage pairings (up $10), and dinner for two is now $747, up $64 from last year’s price of $683, when I awarded the venue four stars for Bloomberg News. And yes, Blanca’s wine pairings are a bunch cheaper than those at Atera ($115-$185) and EMP ($145).
“For Brazilians seething with resentment over wasteful spending by the country’s political elite, the high prices they must pay for just about everything — a large cheese pizza can cost almost $30 — only fuel their ire.”—From an NYT piece in late July about the cost of living in South America’s largest country. So next time you think about complaining about that $58 strip steak at Minetta Tavern, think about Brazil’s crazy high prices, thousand dollar smartphones and otherwise. The culprits are transportation bottlenecks, dysfunctional taxes, and yes, inflation.
Shout out to our good brothers and sisters at Bloomberg Businessweek for this fine piece of reporting. Diageo, which owns Smirnoff Vodka and other brands, successfully increased prices on a super premium scotch by 9 percent, on Popov vodka by 10 percent, and on Gordon’s gin by 7 percent. Also: “North Americans are buying more from the top shelf than drinkers elsewhere.”
Atera, chef Matthew Lightner’s edible ode to rocks, moss, lichens and tweezers, has raised the price of its tasting menu to $195, a $30 increase from $165. That means dinner for two at the Manhattan restaurant, after tax and 20% service, now starts at $503.
This move puts the avant-garde Atera on the same pricing level as Eleven Madison Park and Blanca; the latter recently hiked its menu to $195 as well (from $180).
Atera has also switched to a full prepayment system, along the lines of Next or Alinea in Chicago, where your credit card is charged for the full price of the meal, with tax and tip (but not wine), when booking. Beverage pairings, now $115/$185 (up $10 apiece), are still purchased at the restaurant. Previously, Atera didn’t charge your credit card until 48 hours before dinner, giving you the option to bail.
I awarded three stars to Atera last fall in my Bloomberg News review, when dinner for two, plus pairings, was $696. That same meal plan is now $799. Still a BUY? Yes, I’d reckon it is, given that the dining experience is about as enjoyable as Blanca or EMP — though for sure Atera’s food can be a bit more challenging.
Chef Lightner was kind enough to talk to us via email about Atera’s price hikes and his prepayment system. Here’s what he had to say: