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How much is too much to pay for a good meal?

I love to eat out, as all of you on this site do as well! However, I am young (mid 20s) and while I am a working professional, living in NY is expensive and cannot even imagine going to Babbo or (heaven forbid) Per Se- the prices are so high! (I am not judging anyone who does- but weighing the cost versus the satisfaction of a delicious meal factor, it just does not seem worth it to me). My price range, even for a special occasion usually is $15 or less for an appetizer, $25 or less for an entree, if there is a prix-fixe, $40 or less per person without drinks. As I have been able to find quality meals for these prices (or less!) even for special occasions, I just do not undertand why someone would be willing to pay more than $30 for an entree. But I know that a lot of people do- is it ever worth it? Am I missing out? Am I cheap? :}

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  1. We ate at the Inn at Little Washington last year as a last hurrah before moving from Virginia to San Francisco. It was the one meal we've had that we really felt we seriously overpaid for. The expectations were so high and though the service was exceptional the food just didn't pop the way we were thinking it would. The total bill was about $600 for the two of us including wine.

    We have had a few meals in the $300-$400, though, that we felt were well worth it.

    1. I can remember my aunt's horror when I told her that my husband and I had spent $100 each for dinner at a 3-star restaurant in France (this was in 1982, and we were by no means rich). She couldn't imagine any food being worth that high a price. Several years later, her daughter's future in-laws took her and her husband out to dinner at what was then considered to be the best restaurant in California. My aunt called me up the next day and apologized for having judged me too harshly. That said, you can spend big bucks for a very mediocre meal, so do your research first and keep your fingers crossed. Even the greatest restaurants have the odd off day.

      1. Nicole, choose your special occasions wisely and enjoy an occasional splurge. You are sharing a special city with special people who can eat like kings everyday. But you are young and learning life's pleasures at a measured pace. Don't exhaust your life's thrills too soon!

        A memory of my only major meal at Le Cirque 25 years ago with three friends, was watching a little old man sitting alone at a 2-top table. He was unremarkable, until I observed him with a pocket knife doing funny carving things. I wondered how this poor little old man could find himself so out of place. I learned later that he dined every night at Le Cirque, and preferred shaving his own french truffles.

        1. much of it is perspective and priorities. i can't understand why somebody would spend $50,000 on a car, since a $25,000 car will get you from *point a* to *point b* too.

          however, i have spent $500 or more per person on dinner and wine. i still dream about those meals, and look forward to more. and i don't own a car, lol.

          3 Replies
          1. re: hotoynoodle

            I think the answer to this questions depends upon what kind of chowhound you are. For me, dining out is all about the food. If I'm enjoying delicious food with friends in a place that is clean, relatively quiet, and the service is good, I consider it a wonderful experience. Linen tablecloths, waiters in white jackets, and creative presentations are nice, but they are not my priority. After many years and many dollars, I have learned that sophisticated ambiance and sky high prices sometimes come with mediocre food.

            1. re: breadbox

              indeed. however, they can also mean a flawless 3-star michelin meal.

            2. re: hotoynoodle

              I definitely agree with you. We all have different priorities. When one of my girlfriends was in law school (no income), she budgeted for trips, occasional nice meals, but didn't leave anything for certain items such as a gym membership (which is a necessity in my eyes).

              I've also spent more than $500/person for a meal and do not have a car either. And if I'm ever in the market for one, a cute VW Beetle shall suffice (which starts at $16,490).

            3. I really love great meals at different price ranges. Two things:

              1. It is more disappointing to have to pay more for a mediocre meal.

              2. A nagging thought is often at the back of my mind when eating at expensive places: At the price for one person, I cound easily and enjoyably produce a white-linen, high end meal at home for four people. Buying high-end ingredients can mean easy prep. Salmon, lamb, good wines and cheeses, caviar, artichokes or asparagus, simple fresh green salad, for example, can equal "less is more" in terms of prep.

              6 Replies
              1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                Sam I agree with you. It is very disappointing to pay $10-15 for a poor burger or sandwich in an average place. I would rather save up and go for a wonderful meal where you feel special and get dressed up.

                1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                  I definitely concur with 1. I'm a big fan of getting what you pay for. I used to love the pork chop special at a counter diner where I went to college. Thursday nights: two pork chops cooked on the flat top, green beans (sometimes fresh, sometimes canned), mashed potatoes and gravy, dinner roll (well, actually, a toasted hamburger bun) and a soda for $3.75 (all the way up to $4.25 now, I hear, 10 years later). One of my favorite meals in town. Better in many ways than the mediocre $25 entrees at some of the restaurants in town.

                  1. re: ccbweb

                    Thanks for replying- I see the points made and have to agree- it's about priorities. For myself, I feel comfortable in my price range- anything more and the food would have to be out of this world for me not to feel guilty about spending so much. But at the same time, I would rather pay more for a good meal than less for a mediocre one. Also, I try to do as Europeans do- on a Sat afternoon go to the "high end" restauarant for lunch- it's somewhat cheaper and should be the same quality.
                    Question: are the $30 and above entrees really due to expensive ingredients/quality or just super-overcharge? (I'm guessing overcharge or they wouldn't be cheaper during lunch)

                    1. re: NicoleFriedman

                      It depends...its probably not really overcharing all that much. Good ingredients are expensive and it takes a lot of time and ability to turn them into top notch eats. Lunch is usually a smaller portion, so lower prices are to be expected. Not to mention, people aren't willing to pay as much for lunch, so there's a market issue at play as well. Another factor at dinner at places that are serving $30+ entrees is that there is likely to be more to the service; ie, bread and butter/oil etc.

                      Going to high end places for lunch is a good way to get the quality food and good service, but my experience is that most places click a little better during dinner service and so though you'll get to experience the food you may not experience all of the best a restaurant has to offer. This isn't a knock on the restaurants or saying that they're slacking during lunch...just that lunch is a dicier proposition because some diners want quick and relatively cheap, others want the full on experience, some want small portions others are looking for a big meal so they can eat a smaller meal later, etc.

                      1. re: NicoleFriedman

                        There are no absolutes - some ingredients simply cost more and it's up to you to decide if you're willing to pay more for them. I'd expect to pay more for really great seafood, "exotic" fare such as fois gras, etc.

                        As a person who likes to cook, I'm also wary of ordering things I can make at home... a $12 burger better be something I'd never think to do or hope to achieve in the kitchen. Likewise, an expensive pasta dish at a restaurant better deliver more than a different take on sauce and noodles that can be put together at home for just a few bucks. That said, I had a killer pasta meal recently that was well worth the high price... it was on a different level and made with stuff you're not going to find in the grocery store.

                        Also pay attention to portion size. I love meat, for example, but I never crave a 38 oz. double porterhouse. Well, I wouldn't turn it down, and would enjoy the first few bites, but I'd be happy with a nice 6 oz bit of beef and a variety of tasty sides. A lot of places try to deliver both quantity and quality (and many do), but I often find it's overkill.

                        Finally, it's a business. Most places are going to try and get as much money out of you as possible. Not in an evil way (though some do), but it's all a bit of a game. Learn the nuances and then you'll be fine with saying no to some things, or fine with saying yes to that overpriced dessert that will make your date happy.

                        1. re: tastyjon

                          Many good points in this post. I very much agree with tastyjon's point re: thinking twice about ordering stuff and paying too much for food I could (and do) easily make at home for a lot less money.