COI, Daniel Patterson’s tasting-menu only restaurant in San Francisco’s North Beach district, has increased the price of its eleven-course dinner menu to $165, up from $155 earlier this fall, and up from $145 earlier in 2011 (Menu historians will note that COI charged $125 in 2009 and $115 in 2008).
So after COI’s 18% service charge and 8.5 percent San Francisco sales tax, dinner for one will cost $211.24 before wine, or $346 after the $105 optional wine pairing. For two, that’s $422 before wine, or $692 after pairings.
Is COI a still a BUY at these prices? We’re inclined to say, yes, it is a BUY, based on positive reports we’ve heard about Patterson’s California cuisine. The two-Michein starred chef was nice enough to speak with The Price Hike via email about rising labor costs and eating forest lichens.
Why did you increase prices to $165 this month? Presumably because of rising food/labor costs? We raised our prices for a number of reasons, but labor is the main one. We’ve doubled the size of our staff since we opened, and now have a ratio of about 1 employee to every 2 diners. Also we have significantly remodeled the restaurant, so the dining experience has improved in that regard. And various costs of doing business, including food, have risen.
Why has COI’s price increased over the years? The COI menu has always been priced inexpensively for what it is. Even now, we are one of the lowest priced restaurants in our category in the world. In our area, Manresa is $175, Benu is 1$80, saison is now $198-$498, etc. So while we have raised prices over the years, those prices have always been below market. That extends to our wine markups, also very low for our type of service-intensive restaurant.
How has COI evolved? The restaurant has evolved tremendously since we opened in 2006. The style of cooking has become more precise and distinctive, the food tastier. Our ingredients have gotten better. Our staff has gotten better (which necessitates that we pay them more), and more of them. We have reinvested hundreds of thousands of dollars into decor and new kitchen equipment, which makes the dining experience more pleasurable, and the kitchen better equipped to produce increasingly technically difficult food. As we have increased the quality of the experience and taken on more costs, we have had to raise prices accordingly.
COI is a vegetable-focused restaurant, non? Chef David Kinch from Manresa had some very insightful comments recently about the cost of vegetables. I thought pehaps you’d like to offer your own thoughts about vegetable costs (or perhaps about sugars & grains as well). But I wonder if the question of value itself should be examined a bit. There are commercially available ingredients that we use that can be quite expensive, like abalone, which costs over $100 a pound. We use a lot of vegetables, but we also use the best meat, poultry, eggs we can buy, all of which has been going up in price. But what about the value of wild plants, like when we go into a forest and find a certain kind of lichen, and bring it back and spend hours cleaning, boiling, dehydrating, and grinding it into a powder with which we encrust the beef, and it tastes amazing, like black trumpet mushrooms and truffles, how do you value that? How do you value ingredients that no one else has, that don’t exist on the commercial market? The simple answer is that is takes a great deal of labor to cook like that, but you still have to have the idea in the first place. I think that part of our value is cooking food that can’t be found elsewhere.
Statistically speaking, any upward price move, even by a dollar, will probably cause a restaurant to lose certain clients and gain others. Can you tell me how your clientele has changed as you’ve increased your prices over the years? We’ve been very lucky, in that we’ve always been well supported. Our customers have grown with us, and have kept coming back, over and over, all through the economic ups and downs, and our business has grown each year. I would say that the price increases have not had any effect on business, but the reasons that the prices have increased - the things that have also increased quality- have helped business a lot. We work very hard to keep constantly improving, and we value very highly the emotional connection we have with our guests. I think in the end that’s what matters most. (Daniel Patterson).