On Tuesday, Saison in San Francisco raised the price of its most expensive wine-paired menu by $143. On Thursday, Saison in San Francisco lowered the price of its most expensive wine-paired menu by $143. Samuel Beckett would’ve been pleased.
We first reported the 29% price jump on Wednesday, which pushed dinner to $641 per person. A day later, a spokesperson for the two Michelin-starred spot told us Saison would keep the menu at $498, citing our coverage as an influencing factor.
This means the Counter Menu two is now only $996, down from a high of $1,281. Before the “Thursday Price Drop,” the 20-22 menu started at $400 after tax and service; the price only rose to $643 after the optional beverage pairing.
Wine pairings are now no longer optional (as was the case in the past) under the new (and old) $498 price. So for light drinkers, dinner will be more expensive. Again. Though Chef Joshua Skenes hinted in an email yesterday that he might make the beverage pairing optional in the future. Again.
The Counter Menu prices are also reflective of a 5% processing fee charged by SeatMe.com, the exclusive online reservations provider for Saison; all diners pay for their meals entirely in advance, like at Next in Chicago or Brooklyn Fare in New York. Chef Skenes told us that he’s looking to eliminate that 5% fee.
Here are some highlights from our Thursday email interview/ongoing dialogue with Chef Skenes:
Why did you change the price back to $498? I always wanted to stay at $498. Our wires got crossed. But ultimately we want to make our customers happy and make the chefs counter a viable option.
You previously told us that food costs for the Saison have increased dramatically. Most high-end consumers understand that rising food prices are a fact of life. So now that Saison is keeping the Counter Menu at the lower $498 price point, will it be offering that menu profitably? It is not very profitable for us. Almost every dollar we make goes to expenses.
Alternatively, are there things that you wanted to do with the $641 menu that you won’t be able to do with the $498 menu? So long as we can cover our costs and break even we are happy. This is not about money for us. This is about the craft and lifelong pursuit of mastering a skill. We want to give our guests the greatest experience possible.
I’m curious about the SeatMe fee. I understand OpenTable.com can be quite expensive for some restaurants and I understand that SeatMe makes things more affordable by not charging per-diner or per-reservation fees. But conversely, consumers are used to “free reservations,” whether rightly or wrongly. After all, we willingly pay service charges every time we buy movie tickets through Fandango, and we pay very expensive service fees when we buy concert or sporting tickets from StubHub. Are reservation fees the way of the future? “We are working on finding a way to get rid of the fee. I dont like it myself but I presume credit card companies are charging Seatme so I guess they have to cover that cost. Restaurants such as Saison that focus on quality make dismal profits. These fees are simply unaffordable for such a place (Joshua Skenes).
(Update: Michele Mandell of SeatMe.com notified us in an e.mail that the processing fee is used to pay for credit card company fees; SeatMe.com does not making any money off the individual transactions. The details are slightly more technical, and we’ll clarify in a separate post early next week, just so we’re not inundating people with Saison coverage.)