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Entrees Hit $40 -- When Did I Become Rip Van Winkle?

Over the last year (or is it just months?) it seems the price of entrees have been creeping up, up and up. I don't know if this is a East Coast/West Coast phenomenon, but recently I found myself asking, "When did I become such a cheap bast$(#*?"

Until recently, for an upscale experience, I never blinked when a starter was anywhere from $9-15 and an entree from $20-30. All of a sudden it seems an upscale dining experience is more likely to be in the $25-40+ range. It was when I paid $22 for a gnocchi dish (w/ English peas and some other seasonal greens) at a nice, non-Italian restaurant in the Bay Area that I said to myself, "My god, what's the margin on this thing?!"

Am I crazy? Is this just inflation? Gas prices? I don't know, but I'm finally feeling the sticker shock. Anyone else experiencing this on a regular basis? Or have I become Rip Van Winkle?


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  1. I'm in London just now and the prices of meals look the same as prices in the US (LA, in this case), but it's POUNDS!!! That's about double minus 10%. It's just what the market will bear, I guess.

    1. I agree with you and the price of entrees have escalated faster than CPI. I know people might blame oil prices but my local pizzeria, who runs on propane hasn't jacked up the prices by the same percentages.

      A couple of items DW and I do do offset some of this:

      - Double appetizers. Sometimes we are too tired, not overly hungry, watching our figures, or just do not want to spend the money for an appetizer and an entree. During the week two appetizers work nicely.

      - a salad and a half order of pasta is more than enough for most of us. $24 for gnocchi (entree) and $14 for app size. I'll take the app size, serve it after the salad and call it secondi instead of entree.

      - take the $7-10 bottled water off the table. Tap works fine for me and DW is strictly a diet coker. it bothers me when you arrive at the table and there is a bottle of Panna or Pelegrino already there. the waiter starts pouring and your hit with $10 on the bill. please remove.

      - salad instead of a fancy appetizer. historically i would never look to the greens for my first course, now i do. it's amazing how a good salad does satisfy as much as a $15 app.

      - skip the app all together. during the week when DW orders the double-app, I may not have an app at all. a $20-26 entree is usually enough. how many times have your eaten the app and then said to yourself, "boy i wish i did not order an entree, i am already full."

      - a leisurely walk to the gelato stand instead of dessert. $10 for a dessert is also on the menu and a beautiful scoop of gelato is $3.75. Ditto with the tea and coffee, $4-5 for a cup of joe? i've given my kids a lecture on the long term economics of their $4 Starbucks in the morning and i need to walk the talk.

      - Most importantly, BE SELECTIVE. do you really want to spend $40+ for a steak. You are probably eating at the restaurant for the overall flavors the chef presents and these can be experienced in a chicken or fish as well as the steak, for a whole lot less.

      - Another thing my in-laws do is split an entree. it works great for them. neither wants the entire dish and even with some restaurants charging a $5 "splitting" fee it works nicely. BTW, drives me super-crazy when they ask to split a salad, but i am getting used to the entree gig. better than eating the big entree or taking half home for fido.

      as an aside, on a busy weeknight when DW and I do this dinner-lite, we usually leave a much bigger than normal percentage tip for good service. last thursday we left $18 on a $48 bill.

      3 Replies
      1. re: jfood

        My husband and I have started splitting entrees more often, particularly when we are having steak but even with other items. There's no way that either of us needs to eat (or in reality CAN eat) the giant cuts of meat that are typically served. We haven't done this to save money necessarily, but because we want to eat more reasonably, but saving money and wasting less food are definitely benefits. Last night we went to Angelini Osteria for my husband's birthday, and we had 2 appetizers, 1 pasta, then the bistecca. We were pleasantly satiated but not overstuffed. We haven't noticed any disdain at our entree-splitting and we've done it at nice places like Jar in L.A. and N9NE in Las Vegas. We do make sure to tip nicely but we always do that.

        1. re: jfood

          Menu prices don't go up the same way the CPI does, though. You $20 entree doesn't go up to $20.10 one month, and then $20.20 the next. It holds for a while and then goes up a larger increment. Also, food costs are only one element of the price of a dish, there's labor costs (especially in places like San Francisco) and overhead (commericial rents also go up in big increments rather than gradual ones).

          I have a feeling, too, that food prices in restaurants are less subsidized by alcohol (and in particular, cocktail) prices then they have been in the past.

          I'm always amazed when people talk about the bottled water scams restaurants run. The pressure to order expensive water is the exception, not the norm, in the Bay Area. And really, if you let restaurants do that to you, you really can't complain.

          1. re: Ruth Lafler

            sorry for the confusion, so let me state a little differently.

            I agree that the price of entrees is increasing at a more rapid rate then the general bucket of goods and services known as the CPI. I believe that is the one of the OP's concern with $40 entrees. i would say that over the last 10 years the price of entrees has doubled, while the average CPI rate has been half of that.

            I mis-phrased my comment on the bottled water. i agree with Ruth Lafler in that I do not partake of the bottled h2o and was not complaining. i think by having the water on the table gives the "impression" that this is free, similar to bread, butter and "the chef has prepared something special for you to experience prior to..." Might be a good topic for another thread. will start one to see where it goes.

        2. I remember being in Nantucket some 8-10 years ago and going to a restaurant called something like 40 Federal. I saw a $45 entree there and thought then "the nerve of a restaurant charging $40+". God only knows what that place now charges. Needless to say I have not been to Nantucket since and I have zero plans on returning! Unfortunately this is the world we live in and as the above poster stated, it is what the market is willing to bear. Also, lets not look beyond how our society is diverging. The rich seem to be getting richer while the middle and lower classes seem to be lagging. Alot of restaurants in middle to lower class neighborhoods have kept their prices relatively stable while all the restaurants in higher income areas seem to be skyrocketing. Rents are skyrocketing. And it will only get worse over the next few years as property values and rents tend to diverge in times where real estate declines.

          7 Replies
          1. re: LVI

            Perhaps, if the real estate bubble ever bursts, so will the "menu prices bubble."

            1. re: LVI

              Prices on Nantucket have always been higher because of the expense of shipping produce and flesh (whether 30 miles over water or by air) makes it more dear than on the mainland. It's not like a little jaunt to Shelter Island.

              1. re: Karl S

                Then explain why prices on Nantucket are far more expensive than Bermuda?

                1. re: LVI

                  I also forgot to mention cost of labor (most workers cannot afford to live on the island any more, so they commute from the mainland, and the costs are factored into wages and therefore prices). That's not something Bermuda can pull off.

                  1. re: Karl S

                    Not sure that holds much validity. Property values in Bermuda are just as much or more than Nantucket. The cost of transporting food to Nantucket is far less than it is to Bermuda. Labor costs will be roughly the same. My guess is that as Nantucket has become the playground for the ultra rich, the prices have risen accordingly.

              2. re: LVI

                Btw, the restaurant is, I assume, 21 Federal, one of the lux places on the island since its opening 20 years ago.


                In the years when I frequented the island (1986-92), it was definitely at the top end of things, and I could not afford to eat there. On the other hand, the ultimate tier consisted solely of Chanticleer in Siasconset; I believe there are more of that tier nowadays as the island has become so monopolized by the rich set (it was well on its way 20 years ago, but there were still plenty of ways to eat at a more modest level, though even then they were more expensive than on the Cape due to the factors I mentioned in my other responses).

                Nantucket was once the richest place in the US, during the decades of the early 1800s when it dominated the whale oil trade. Think of it as the Dubai of the early 1800s. After the ships became too big (supertankers of their day) for the harbor channel, the honors went over to New Bedford for a couple of decades before the petroleum boom and the Civil War, and Nantucket went into an economic slumber for over a century that kept it remarkably preserved (almost in amber) and perfectly suited for the low-key summering preferred by Yankee elites who didn't like to flash their wealth around. Then it became dominated by those who did, and that demand of course skewed things. Lots of controversy over that for the past 30+ years. Nowadays, if you want a low key island off the southern New England coast, Cuttyhunk is possibly your only bet (I love the wonderfully ordinary West Island in Fairhaven, but I digress), but without any hotels or inns!

                1. re: Karl S

                  Funny you mention...Ocracoke NC. is where I will be taking the family @ 3am this Sat morning for or vacation. Isolation at its best, for now at least!

              3. Yes, it is what the market will bear. I live in a place with a much smaller and less wealthy upper class and the prices of food at the upper echelon are significantly lower (and the quality, in general, better). At some places in the US, it almost seems a matter of competition and pride: the most expensive burger, desserts with inedible gold flakes... As if making the price more ostentatious and out of the reach of 99.99999% of the general public is part of the appeal.

                1. As a food professional, I can tell you that the cost of ingredients have gone up tremendously in the last 1.5 years. A steak, for example now costs any where from $6.50-18.00 each(depending on which cut).That is a huge cost right off the bat! The fuel costs are added to all of this at every step of the way. I don't forsee much of a decrease any time soon.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: mattrapp

                    I agree with most of what you say except that when one establishment serves a Prime Dry aged NY Strip @ $35 and another place, about 1 mile away sells the exact same steak @ $60, greed seems to play a major role. Now that is not to say that you or even employees of that restaurant are engaged in price gouging but rather the corporations that own these restaurants. Again, it boils down to greed and the almighty dollar! And it seems to occur more in the higher income areas.

                  2. Recently some government wonk proposed that restaurants which serve large portions are responsible for the country's obesity. So you should see the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's food mavens writing how nice it is to see smaller portions in restaurants! I never had a problem walking out with a doggie bag to re-heat for lunch. In fact I have made a meal of soup, salad, and a couple of appetizers where the portions were generous. No, that doesn't save you any money, but it affords you greater variety and an overall lighter meal.

                    1. We eat out a minimum 2-3 times a week and our monthly restaurant charges routinely are $1000+ but we have quit going to restaurants where the prices are orbiting somewhere around Mars. It's absurd. I love to cook so we now have our high end meals at home because I can't bring myself to pay the prices you are talking about and then still run the risk of mediocre food.

                      The majority of our patronage goes to ethinic based, mid-priced, predictable restarants. These are places where we don't get a bad table, the owners know us, and we are seldom disappointed with the food and service.

                      5 Replies
                      1. re: Scagnetti

                        What you've said really resonates with me. We used to eat out a lot more, but the escalating prices, combined with the risk of disappointment, has caused us to cook it ourselves more and more. We are good home cooks, and we feel we can do a better job than all but a handful of places. Certainly the best Chinese food I've had recently has been that which I've cooked myself (Chicago has a really disappointing Chinese food scene). The price is better, the venue is more convenient, and you don't have to drive home afterward!

                        1. re: Akatonbo

                          I lived in Chicago for 15 years and ALWAYS enjoyed going to Emperors Choice and LOVED it along with Phoenix for Dim Sum. Have you been there and if so have they gone that far down hill in just 3 years?

                          1. re: Akatonbo

                            Chicago has a disappointing Chinese food scene?

                            Have you availed yourself of the plethora of cuisines found in the Chinatown Mall/Chinatown proper? If you're looking for dim sum you might be disappointed(mileage varies), but Lao Sze Chuan, Spring World, LTH, etc. etc. etc....are amazing...

                            Just conjecturing here: but if you've only encountered Chicago's dispiriting Cantonese-diaspora Chinese American takeout joints then yr really missing out... my .02

                            and I too, make Chinese at home: via Fuscia Dunlop, Bruce Cost...

                            1. re: aelph

                              Except for certain favorite dishes at places like Lao Sze Chuan, Emperor's Choice and Phoenix (which I have eaten at, and do enjoy), the Chinese food I cook at home is "better," by which I mean that, a) it conforms more closely to the best Chinese food that I've eaten in cities like Hong Kong, Paris, Montreal, Los Angeles and New York than anything I've had in Chicago in many years; b) it is cooked using recipes from cookbooks written by experts in Chinese cuisine (like "Chinese Gastronomy," by Hsiang Ju and Tsuifeng Lin); and c) I like it better, because to me the "best" Chinese food is cooked using what I think of as universal standards of quality ("no gristly bits in the beef or chicken," would be one of them), which I can guarantee if I do it myself at home).

                              I have to admit that a large part of my disappoinment with Chicago's Chinese dining scene is that there is no one place (like the old Dragon Inn of bygone years) that combines consistantly good (and authentic!) food cooked with high "production values," up-scale ambience, and good service. If these things aren't important to others, then I can see why they'd disagree with me.

                            2. re: Akatonbo

                              I've got you beat on charges Scagnetti, but what I will say, is that this is not confined to the coasts. Places like Dallas are getting way expensive! Look at places like Lola, Nobu, Craft, Hibiscus, Abacus. And don't get me started on Nana and Bice!


                          2. I think these last two posts just reflect the changing style of living for the whole country as people stay home more, cook at home more, and entertain at home more. Just think about how many people you know who spend New Year's Eve at someone's home compared to a few years ago. Maybe that's a weak example, but I'll bet there has been a recent upsurge in cookbook sales and I don't think FoodTV is hurting, despite some chowhound comments.

                            1. What's interesting is that the increase isn't limited to the more upscale dining experience. Even mainstream chains like Olive Garden or Romano's Macaroni Grill are averaging $10-15 for dinner entrees. Sure it's nothing like $40, but you have to assume that a chain has some economies of scale. Comes back to the basic -- it's what the market will bear some earlier posters mentioned.

                              We generally cook at home during the week, but sometimes come Thursday, I've either run out of ideas or I just don't feel like cooking. And if I don't want to settle for a chain or a half hour drive to the City, well, I better get out a 89 cent bag of penne and hope I have some tomatoes from the Farmers Market.(Not a bad dinner, in fact it's what we had tonight).

                              1. Did you see the NY Times review of Craftsteak? Wagyu beef is going for $20 an ounce. So an 8 ounce steak will set you back...??? You do the math.

                                1. I live in the San Francisco area and still get sticker shock at appetizers over $10 or entrees over $25.

                                  The most expensive restaurant I go to regularly is Oliveto, the best Italian place in the area, and its most expensive entrees are usually $29. More often I eat at Incanto, where the food is nearly as good and entrees top out at $21.

                                  1. This fascinating article appeared in the NY Post last week.

                                    WHY THIS $5.75 BOWL OF PASTA COSTS $32.00 tries to explain how it happened in Manhattan.

                                    IMO one of the reasons is these restaurants are always chock a block filled up, often with 1-3 month waiting lists for tables. There are so many people who are ready willing and able to pay the higher prices, the restaurants feel free.

                                    2 Replies
                                    1. re: Fleur

                                      It's strange they don't mention labor and other energy costs; the above example is about a 20% food cost which is exactly where it should be for a high end restaurant.
                                      Also the purveyors are now adding a $5 or so "fuel surcharge" per order, so if they use 5 or 10 purveyors with a couple of deliveries from each every week, that adds up to a big hidden cost for them too.

                                      1. re: coll

                                        I think the main point of the article is that the cost of food, labor and everything else has not really gone up that much, but the prices restaurants charge have .

                                    2. Its supply and demand, just like with fuel charges. As long as people are going to pay, not boycott, not complain, the prices will continue to rise.

                                      There is no fuel shortage, like they told us there was in the 70's. People are not conserving: I saw 7 SUVs in line at a Starbucks today in San Diego. As long as people will pay, prices will go up.