Coi in San Francisco, the two Michelin-starred tasting menu joint that might have the best-looking restaurant website in the world, has raised the price of its menu by $10 to $175. Wine pairings are still $105. That means the REAL COST of dinner for two at Coi, after tax and an 18% service charge, is now $451, or $721 with wine pairings.
Chef Daniel Patterson was kind enough to chat with us via email about his price hike, which he says is partly a result of the fact that he’s paying his staff more. He also talks about changing the menu to an eight-course tasting, down from eleven, and about the ongoing debate over tipping and service charges.
Here’s what he had to say:
The last time we spoke, you mentioned that doubling the staff count at Coi, along with food costs and renovations, led to increasing prices from $155 to $165. What led to this latest increase to $175? We haven’t raised our prices in 2 years, and in the meantime, our food and labor costs have gone up a lot. It’s basically just a normal price adjustment. Part of the increase in labor is that our team has been with us a while, so i’m paying them more. The customer benefits from this, as it leads to better trained cooks making more consistent and delicious food.
How has the Coi menu evolved over the past year? Evolution has been a constant for us since we opened. After I finished the cookbook, which documented the first 7 years of the restaurant [Editor’s Note: Due out this fall], it felt like a good time to step back and reassess our format, and how well we were meeting our customers needs. I always feel like we can do better. We shortened the menu to 8 courses, with of course a few extras along the way. The amount of different dishes is the same, but the menu moves more quickly, and seems less intimidating to many of our guests.
We are using a bit more protein (although of course we will still cook a vegetarian menu on request), and more expensive ingredients. Stylistically the dishes are a bit more focused and precise. The bread program has improved tremendously thanks to our pastry chef Matt Tinder. We are refining and improving service, and we have brought Brick Loomis, our group’s service director, back to Coi for an extended period. The feedback has been really great. I’d like to think that the restaurant is maturing. And, of course, we’re constantly making little improvements in the decor - i want the restaurant to always feel fresh and vibrant.
There’s been quite a bit of talk regarding tipping at restaurants lately. Coi, for as long as I can remember, has been clear about having a service charge that’s “shared by the entire staff,” as it states on the menu. Does this let you pay your servers a salary and correct the disparity in income between front of the house and back of the house? The first time I had a service charge was at Babette’s in 1994. It was a good system but met with a lot of cultural pushback - at that time, in Sonoma, it was very strange to people. At Coi I can count on the fingers of one hand the complaints we’ve gotten over the years. It has worked very well for us, and allowed us to pay our cooks a higher wage, although not as much as the servers. Our servers are paid a set amount, as are all of our employees.
I have no opinion about whether anyone else should or shouldn’t follow suit, although I personally do not like the tipping system, which I think has a dehumanizing effect on both employees and customers. I am not aware of any evidence to support the theory that professional servers are a subclass of humanity who can only do a good job if “incentivized” by tips, like monkeys dancing for peanuts. Our experience here has been that good servers are motivated by the desire to create an exceptional experience, to take care of people and to earn a living, the same as any other restaurant employee. From a practical standpoint I can say that we did try a service charge at Plum when it opened, and it met with so much resistance that we abandoned it. It could be that it works best in high-end places (Daniel Patterson).
Recall that Patterson last spoke with us in November 2011, when he last raised Coi’s prices, from $155 to $165.