Why Restaurants Should Publish Truffle Prices

The New York Times recounts a fun little scenario in its “Haggler” column about a $400 bill at Nello, a Madison Avenue restaurant where even a low food cost item like spaghetti carbonara commands a $37 price, a crafty cover charge against the 99 percent. 

So it goes that the Haggler situation involves a $275 white truffle dish, whose price the waiter purportedly didn’t announce, resulting in shock when the check arrives. 

The question is this: should waiters announce the price of a verbal special? And should restaurants end the practice of writing “market price” on their menus? The answers are simple. YES and YES. Historians will note this is PRICE HIKE RULE No. 6. 

Truffle prices can fluctuate on a day-to-day basis, which is why some restaurants write “market price” instead of a proper number. But most good venues serving truffles print new menus every day, which is why there is absolutely no reason a restaurant shouldn’t publish a truffle price. 

As for verbal specials, some waiters won’t announce the price because doing so is “awkward,” as the old-fashioned school of thinking goes; why embarrass the host who’s paying and expose everyone else to the actual price of an expensive item? Of course, if that outdated logic was enforced, menus would come without prices. But they don’t. 

I’ve addressed these issues in previous Bloomberg columns and the situation has improved. I don’t recall a single occasion this truffle season where a waiter hasn’t announced the price of a truffle special. And many restaurants are publishing their truffle prices on the menus as well; Graydon Carter’s Monkey Bar is a good example (and chef Damon Wise is serving some dang good food there). 

Truffle transparency is key in a world where expense accounts (and checking accounts) are getting the big squeeze. Disagree? Post your thoughts in the comments. And many thanks to Eater.com's Raphael Brion for bringing the NYT column to our attention.  

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