Thursday, June 23, 2005

What is 'reasonably priced'?

Since I am not really all that excited about food right now, I figured I'd do some philosophical meandering on the cost of food.

I recently bought a bottle of Moet White Star from a hotel bar for 5 times the price I would have paid at Trader Joe's. A little surprised, I told the guy at the bar, "Wow, that's quite a mark-up for White Star!" and he replied to me, "That's the restaurant business!" Under any other circumstances, I wouldn't have bought it, but it was a celebration - I succumbed. After all, it was my fault for not getting my act together to bring one myself and just pay the corkage fee... Was that 'reasonably priced' for the convenience of being able to buy cold, chilled sparkling wine? Was it 'reasonably priced' for a one-the-spot celebratory toast? I guess so...

On another occasion, I found myself spending a whole lot more than I expected to at a sushi restaurant a few weeks back. It was again, a celebration, and I was taking some friends out to dinner. I thought dinner was good, but I didn't think it was anything out of the ordinary - except for the price! The cost performance was so unreasonable that night and it affected my impression of the meal! I mean, we had a great time and nothing was wrong with the food - it was as good as it usually is - but it just didn't feel 'reasonably priced'. It was a celebration, but it didn't quite feel like we got our money's worth in 'celebratory feeling'. I felt like for the same price, I would have had a much more spectacular meal at a French restaurant in the City...

So, what is 'reasonably priced'? To me, I guess it's not about how much things actually cost, but it's more about cost performance. I want to feel like I can't get something better for the same price...

By the way, this only applies to food. If it's anything else - like clothes or shoes or anything inedible - 'reasonably priced' is anything that's at basement prices!! A girl's gotta have her priorities straight!


Uchipu said...

When going out to eat, usually things will cost more than if you had made it yourself. Heck, I can make Chinese food cheaper than the ghetto Chinese take out joint.

But what am I paying for? Here are somethings you want to consider:

1) Ambience. The service, the crisp white linens, the stylish wine glasses, artistic plates and plating.

2) Quality & Variation. Hubby wants steak, I want grilled fish. He wants USDA Prime, Aged, Prime Rib. I want fresh, moist, Halibut from Alaskan waters. Rather than running around town getting the ingredients it's much much easier (perhaps cheaper when you consider tht time invested) to go to a restaurant.

3) Skill & Gear. I cannot quite cut fish like a sushi chef. I cannot quite braise like Tom Colicchio. Some times its the equipment - $50,000 custom stove imported from France vs Dinky gas stove with partially broken burners in my apartment.

When I consider all these, somehow, the $28 plate of grilled fish seems to be OK. When I consider the work that went into running around the organic farmers markets, visiting the Hudson Valley Farms, perfecting the preparation, that's when a $95 tasting meal would seem like a "bargain" or at least, "reasonably priced".

Anonymous said...

You are not alone Alice!

but... I think uchipu is correct about what she writes about, but that doesn't explain why the bottle of champagne is 5 times the retail cost. No one in the restaurant spend time running around organic farmer's markets or braising it carefully over a $50,000 stove.

My wife refuses to eat dinner at a certain restaurant which has nearly the same menu for lunch and dinner. The only difference is that dinner is twice the price.

Yes, I know there is some overhead to running a restaurant so what better place to make up for it than in the alcohol prices (afterall, enough of it and you are likely not to notice how much you are spending). But at times the bill can seem bigger than one expects. It makes cheap bastards like me feel not quite as happy.

Alice said...

Uchi pu,

Yes, variation is key... It's a visual treat too when you get to see different plates all around the table!


There is nothing that ruins a perfectly good meal like an unexpectedly large bill... That is one danger of going the 'omakase/chef's choice' route sometimes. And yes, the lunch/dinner price thing perplexes me too - especially when everything to the portion size is the same!