Sunday, October 22, 2006

$40 entrees! Sides? That'll be extra...

While perusing Chowhound's Food and Media News Board, I found this post about a horrifying article in yesterday's New York Times titled Entrees Reach $40, and, Sorry, the Sides Are Extra.
..."Forty is the new 30," said Richard Coraine, the chief operating officer of Union Square Hospitality Group, which recently began charging $42 for a 1¾-ounce appetizer portion of lobster at lunchtime at the Modern in New York. 10% of its lunch patrons order the dish, it says.

Hovering just below the $40 mark is an even vaster group of $38 and $39 entrees, waiting to cross the line like thirtysomethings approaching a zero-ended birthday. The arctic char at the Indianapolis branch of the Oceanaire Seafood Room chain is $38.50. Metropolitan Grill in Seattle serves shrimp scampi for $39.95. At Mike’s, a new steakhouse in Brooklyn Heights, $9.95 chicken nuggets share the menu with $38.95 veal chops....

Restaurateurs say rising rents, ever more elaborate interior-decoration schemes and the increasing cost of premium ingredients — especially beef and fish — leave them little choice. Chefs, so fond of listing purveyors on menus, do not want those names to be Tyson and Del Monte. They "take pride in getting carrots or beets that no one has," Mr. Coraine said....

But what makes the rise of the $40 entree so significant is not just the price creep, it’s the sophisticated calculation behind it. A new breed of menu "engineers" have proved that highly priced entrees increase revenue even if no one orders them. A $43 entree makes a $36 one look like a deal.

"Just putting one high price on the menu will take your average check up," said Gregg Rapp, one such consultant. "My mom taught me to never order the most expensive thing on the menu, but you’ll order the second."...

The towering prices at wildly luxurious restaurants like Per Se and Masa in New York and Alinea in Chicago have set a new price in the collective dining consciousness for a truly top meal, nudging up what diners will pay for far more modest dinners. In Las Vegas, the current talk is about Guy Savoy at Caesars Palace, where desserts alone are $22 each and a meal for two can easily run $500.

"I love when I hear about that stuff, because then Craft becomes inexpensive," said Tom Colicchio, chef of the quickly multiplying restaurants, including a steakhouse in Las Vegas.

Oddly, as entrees rise in price, they seem to be shedding their traditional accompaniments. Today a $40 main dish is often now just that. Order a side dish, and the entree price climbs dizzyingly close to the 50’s. At the highly influential Craft, Mr. Colicchio serves pricey, naked hunks of protein and charges extra for vegetables. (He says the portions are enough for two.) Porter House, a new steakhouse at the Time Warner Center in New York, even charges diners separately for sauce.

"I blame Tom Colicchio for this," said Barry Okun, a New York lawyer who has established a personal price limit of “between $50 and $60” per entree. “It’s not that I’m happy about it,” he added.

Mr. Colicchio acknowledged the influence of his pricing, adding that restaurants like those of the Bistro Laurent Tourondel group in New York "completely ripped off the concept" of focusing on individual elements.

To which Mr. Tourondel replied, "He should look back at the old-time steakhouse menus that were around way before Craft ever existed."...


Anonymous Anonymous said...

New York is becoming the middle class enclave of doctors, lawyers and other money makers who want to have children too. They can afford $1 million 3 bedroom apartments and the jockeying to put their children into private kindergartens where they'll meet the "right" people. The average guy/gal (let alone someone with a more casual approach to life like, say, an artist)
need not apply.

When I lived there for 30 odd years, I always said that the tendency was to overcharge for life's three necessities, food, housing, clothing and now we are seeing the end-of-Empire culmination of same.

The real kicker recently was the sale for $5.4 billion, of the middle class rental housing complex Stuyvesant Town/Peter Cooper Village to condo/coop developers - it is estimated that 25,000 middle class NYCers will be driven out - sounds like a small country reduced to refugee status. Google it and you'll see a Newsday article on the subject.

Stuy town "homies" have included:

David Brooks
Paul Reiser
Drew Nieporent
and the really important people, teachers, nurses and firefighters.

I applaud the lawyer who set a limit. No one likes to be fleeced - even the wealthy.


8:11 AM  
Blogger Willa Frank said...


what i can't stand is what seems to be the otherwise meaningless migration of NYC prices to places like our little burg, cincinnati! if they have overhead like NYC that's one thing (although pretty stupid around here)--somehow, i don't think that's the reason though.

i guess we can chalk it up to all those people taking the "menu engineering"courses, huh?!!!

2:54 PM  

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