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May 22, 2008 12:00 AM

How do you put the value a food experience in perspective?

I've always tried to keep an open mind toward food and what it's worth to me. In general, if I can afford it, why not? A burger that's fifteen, twenty bucks? Maybe it's a hella burger - I can afford to say good-bye to one of my Andrew Jackson portraits for a chance at hamburger heaven - that is from my perspective that this may be worth it. Heck, some folks in the Big Apple are willing to shell out a C-note for some special burger - its worth is from their perspective. And I really open my wallet wide when I'm traveling. In my mind, if I pass up a chance at some certain place now in some distant land, what are the odds that I'll ever get another shot to try it - from my point-of-view, this might be my only chance - high-value target. A true master of cuisine offers a meal that dreams are made of for the price of my monthly food bill? Okay, just this one time - I'll never forget this experience. I'm nuts about pastries - I know these are edible jewels that few can competently create in an artful manner - to me, priceless.

I've been a little perturbed lately by entries on some threads where posters hash out and rehash their gripes about the price versus what is offered. In some cases (in my eyes), it's apples and oranges comparisons, other times there is nothing to compare the product to, so declaring that this particular experience is not worth it has little foundation. Of course, It's a total value judgement from their own perspective as well. Personally I find that outside of bringing up prices for those interested in trying (again this relates to personal choice), dwelling on the issue of price is a bit unbecoming. If someone wants to pay fifty bucks for a carbonated soft drink flight, hey - it's their money - then it's worth fifty bucks to that person. That's a hypothetical example, but who am I to question whether it's worth someone else paying that kind of money for something? I'm stupid enough to pay fifty bucks for a bottle of old grape juice - many pay A LOT more. If I'm stupid, does that make them as sharp as a bowling ball?

This got me to thinking (I do this on occasion). How do you decide how much a food experience is really worth to you? What influences your decision?

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  1. Whether I'm satisfied at the end of the meal. Satisfied means different things to different people, as you've read.

    To me, a nice view without good food is worthless. Artfully arranged food is worthless if there isn't enough to get caught between my teeth.

    For me to continue to pay $50., $75., $100. a person, I need certain parameters fulfilled by the end of the dining experience. Money is not at the top of my deal breaker list.

    Lots of restaurants out there. Until they all become insufferable and start charging for bread, I should be able to find one I like.

    1. I think I'm a lot like you and it's a combination of what I can reasonably afford, what I want, and what seems to me as quality for the money. There are certain items, like sushi - where I'm willing to spend far more on myself than for something like steak. Steaks I can take or leave, and the money for a great one just isn't personally worth as much to me as a similar money spent of sushi.

      That being said, I have the privilege of having parents who will take me out to eat at places I wouldn't eat otherwise due to price. I appreciate the food and experience very much - but I'm able to put that in its place. This is great if I can pay X, but since I usually am spending Y, it doesn't matter. I guess I'm also not as tightly wound about the price stuff because I enjoy getting smaller portions and have restrain on the bread. I'd rather eat somewhere that has small portions that are satisfying and of quality ingredients rather than need 4 servings of pasta to convince me that I'm getting value for my money.

      1. I'll try any restaurant that seems interesting food-wise, and price doesn't normally affect my decision whether to eat there or not, but it can affect my decision to return there. If I pay $100/plate to eat there, but the food (and perhaps the service) is either on par or less quality than a cheaper place, then I'm certainly not going to return to the $100 place. My thoughts are that, if a restaurant is charging more than another restaurant, then it should provide greater value to me than the other restaurant (whatever my definition of value is at the moment). If it doesn't in comparison, then it's not worth it.

        Having said that, my husband still teases me about the time that I once ordered a langoustine "appetizer" for myself and two other people that cost $28. I was thinking that they would maybe give us enough for a small appetizer for three people. When the plate came out - it was ONE lonely langoustine! Although it was perfectly cooked and quite delightful, I would say that doesn't really represent value for the money....

        1. Quality of food + level of service + ambiance of surrounding + amicability of company = the pleasure of the occasion.

          Then again grabbing a leaky, flavour-packed falafel with the right person is also swell.

          1. Regardless of price, my one rule is, if I make a better version of it at home, I'm disappointed. One of the reasons for dining out is to take advantage of a professional's, presumably better, hand at things. When it is less well done than my amateur's version, I feel ripped off.

            Another pitfall is expecting a linear relationship between price and taste. That never works. How many times have you paid twice the price and gotten twice the experience?