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Menu Item as "Market Price"

I went to Bangkok 54, a Thai restaurant in Arlington VA, the other day and ordered their steamed whole rockfish, which was listed as having a "market price." I usually don't order these items due to a variety of reasons, but knowing the average price of rockfish, and the fact that the server noted it would be perfect for two to share having had drinks and appetizers, I went ahead and ordered it. She also noted that it was based on weight, but that the average was around $25. It certainly made for a delightful dinner.

However, the price on the check listed it as $40. For one rockfish only large enough for two people's entrees (small eaters at that). I was somewhat miffed at the price. I assumed it would be around $20-$25 when I received the dish, including a 50% mark-up. There wasn't anything particularly extravagant about it; it came with the standard chili lime sauce. This experience only further justified not ordering "market price" items.

I do know my fish, and this certainly was not worth $40. I did not say anything due to the circumstance and ended up paying for the both of us out of embarrassment. What's the deal with "market prices" at restaurants? Should we assume a 100% mark-up? I'm having trouble grasping restaurant pricing with these things.

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  1. Market pricing is easy to understand when the price for an item varies. OTOH, there should be no hesitation in either asking for a price and for the server to give one. If you order the item without knowing the cost you've essentially said "anything goes".

    The excuse that the price varies by weight has, to me, a simple response--find out how much it is. Again, if you order the item without knowing the cost you've essentially said "anything goes". If you are afraid of looking cheap -- again...

    I was a waiter for years, and in some high end places. IMO there should be no hesitation or condescending attitude on the waiters' part.

    1. I'm confused: did the server tell you before you ordered it (or as you were in the process of ordering it) that it would be around $25? If so, you've got a gripe in my mind.

      1. Prices for seafood can fluctuate quite a bit. We buy Dungeoness crab a lot and have found the price fluctuates anywhere from $5/b to $9/lb in Chinatown. That's an 80% price increase.

        I don't know anything about the rules of mark-ups on Asian MP seafood.

        1. On the few occasions I order at "market price" I ascertain the price per lb and give the server guidelines.. such as "no more than 2 lbs -- I don't wish to spend more than $25" -- by communicating my guidelines the server and I both know there will be no hassle if they're obliged.

          I think you needed to have gone the step further and just said "please have the chef select one at $30 or less".

          1. I may be a bad shopper, or I may be going to outrageous places, but I have never ordered a market price item that was less than $40 in the end. I just assume that I will be paying through the nose if I agree to this item. It is an awkward way of dealing with pricing.

            That being said, I like Karmalaw's approach, and will try this next time...

            1 Reply
            1. re: moh

              I like Karmalaw's approach too, but would hestiate to employ it. I would not be sure for it to be followed, and wouldn't want the hassle in the end.

              I have always found 'market price' to be a sure indicator of a verrrrrrrrrry large bill and have, in these instances, gone along with giving the restaurant carte blanche on my bill.

            2. By all means, in this situation always get the price from your server up front...
              Thru the years the items I most often find market 'market priced' are of a more rarified nature, items that do fluctuate a lot in the wholesale marketplace...for example: lobster and certain fish and seafood; certain mushrooms such as fresh porcini; truffles, foie gras...and these days wholesale prices are going thru the roof...we may just see more 'market price' designations (or supplements) on printed menus in the near future as owners try to pass on increased costs...Just make sure you know what you are getting into...

              1. I think food costs at restaurants are 30% to 40% - you should assume a 3X markup if you don't want to ask the specific price. If she said the average was $25 and you asked for one they should have come back and said they only had bigger ones - $25 to $40 seems like an awfully big difference in size.

                But yeah, I think "market price" on a menu usually means "really expensive relative to everything else listed here" - how hard is it to print a fresh sheet?

                1. For market price anything in a restaurant, I always ask before ordering. When I'm given a price range, such as "from fifteen to twenty dollars," then I mentally plan on the higher price, or specifically ask for a smaller portion in the low range. Then when the bill differs from what I was told it would be, I ask for the manager. But for the most part, I have to really have a serious desire for something to order it if it's listed at "Market Price." For me, that usually means, "You don't want this."

                  1. I've learned the 'market price lesson' the hard way, but in your case, I'd be SUPREMELY ticked off, since the server said the 'average was around $25'. When the bill came, I would have accepted $30 or so, based on her representation, but $40 would have been well beyond my expectation, given her comment. She gave you a number that may be representative of fact, but it was at best misleading - did they sell a $10 rockfish, or whole bunch of $15 rockfish to other parties to arrive at a $25 average? Or did they simply take advantage of you?

                    6 Replies
                    1. re: ricepad

                      Ricepad, you bring up a very good point. Because the waitstaff said what the average cost would be $25, they should have said something when they realized that it would be $40. The $40 cost could have been due to the fact that it was heavier than average or the price of the fish was higher than normal.

                      1. re: ricepad

                        I'm going to play pedantic statistician. The waitress said "average" price but did not specify which average; was it the mean, the median or the mode? There was apparently no mention of how dispersed the prices were (e.g. a standard deviation or variance). Without that bit of data one cannot really say that $30 would be an expected true price for your entree but $40 is an extreme outlier.

                        O.K., I'm mostly joking, but I think it is entirely possible that the waitress was being perfectly truthful when she said the average price was $25. The OP made an assumption based on insufficient data as to how close to that average her meal would be. I agree with karmalaw, don't ask what the average cost is, ask what YOUR portion will cost, or set an upper limit.

                        1. re: kmcarr

                          Average=mean, from what little I remember of.high school math.

                          1. re: hsk

                            Actually hsk, average is the "central tendency" or middle of a data set and can be expressed by a number of different measures including the mean, median or mode.


                            1. re: kmcarr

                              "central tendency" is a very confusing way to describe these three very different algorithms

                              - The mean and the average are the same number, same formula.
                              - The mode is the most often viewed data point. It is really not a formula but basically looks to the highest number of responses with the same value; and
                              - The median is the number such that the number of responses below that number equals the number of responses above that number irrespective of the average. so if you have 11 responses you plot them and take the value of the 6th lowest/highest response (so 5 are below and 5 are above) and that is the median.

                              Hope that helps

                              1. re: jfood


                                Thanks for your help but I am well schooled in the definitions of mean (arithmetic and geometric), median and mode. Did you check the link in my previous post? Here is the main point from that link:

                                "The most common method is the arithmetic mean, but there are many other types of averages."

                                I will agree with you that to the general public the word "average" is equated with "arithmetic mean" (reinforced for legions of Microsoft Excel users when a function named "Average" calculates the arithmetic mean) but strictly speaking they are not the same thing, and I did say I was playing pedantic statistician in my first post.

                                Now I apologize to all CHers for having created this off topic sub-thread.

                      2. This happened to me a couple of years ago at a touristy seafood resto in Hilton Head, SC. I ordered a crab legs dinner at "market price". It was a nothing special dinner. King crab legs served with a potato side, corn on the cob & a veggie. I didn't think anything of it and our bill arrived and whoa, $40 bucks! First mistake was going to that resto in the first place and 2nd mistake was not asking the price.

                        I'll never make either mistake again.

                        1. First ask price per pound for the item, then ask how much does the specific one you order weights. At Chinese restaurants it's customary to actually present the said item to the customer before cooking it.

                          For example, lobster at market price. So how much per pound? And what's the range of the weight of the lobsters? OK please select one that's about 1.5 pound, and let me see it before you cook it.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: PeterL

                            Agreed. In non-asian restaurants they might not actually bring the critter out to you (which is fine by me - I remember being mortified when my elderly Chinese aunt got two young kitchen staffers to bring out a flopping fish to the table for her inspection in a very upscale Bejing restaurant. The poor kids almost dropped the fish several times! I was just hoping it would meet her standards because I figured that the fish would die anyway after all that trauma and out of water time...and luckily it was a beautiful, tasty fish).

                            I don't understand why people are hesitant to ask the price if it's not stated or to state the size/price they are willing to pay. There's no shame in not having a "money is no object" mentality. I always ask what the market price is - they usually tell me, and then volunteer how large whatever it is runs on average, and/or I ask for a suggestion as to size for however many people are eating it, and then specify what I want. Sometimes the waiter will say "Let me check to make sure we have an X lb fish/crab/whatever" and goes in the back to make sure. I would expect that if they could not accomodate my size/price request they would tell me before preparing the dish (they weigh it before they cook it, so they should know) and if they went ahead and made a dish that ended up significantly more than I'd requested, I'd be very unhappy.

                          2. Thank you all for your responses. I should have known better, but I now see that if I really want a "market price" item, such as that rockfish, I should take more precautions before ordering.

                            Any further commentary would be much appreciated! Thank you!

                            3 Replies
                            1. re: link_930

                              I too have learned to ask. During Lent, I had dinner with a colleague and nearly ordered the Dover Sole. All the other fish entrees were in the $24 to $36 range. The Dover Sole was $65!! Who would have thought? How it could be so much more expensive, I have no idea, because it was selling at the supermarket for $9.99 per pound that same week. Maybe it was served smothered in truffles? So -- don't make assumptions. I'm glad I asked.

                              1. re: RGC1982

                                If the fish at the restaurant were actual Dover Sole and the fish at the supermarket was another kind of fish being sold as "Dover Sole" then the prices wouldn't be very surprising. Actual Dove Sole comes from European waters and is fairly expensive. In the States, a lot of flounder and flat white fish is called "Sole" and/or "Dover Sole" though its not.

                                Nonetheless, an excellent example of why one should ask first!

                                1. re: ccbweb

                                  The place that was selling the Dover Sole for $9.99 is usually a reputable market, but this did look a bit cheap to me. Maybe it was flounder, but it looked, for all purposes, like the delicate Dover Sole that I usually see for about $16.99 per pound.

                            2. I have no inhibitions when it comes to asking the price of something. BUT, I've said before, PRINTERS ARE CHEAP! print prices, print specials. keep wine lists current.