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Jan 5, 2011 09:11 AM

Do you get better value at restaurants with more expensive ingredients?

The full topic is on my blog: http://ramblingsandgamblings.blogspot... but I'll summarize the gist of the question below.

While pondering a recent meal at the prohibitively expensive Masa in NYC, I was wondering whether it offered much value. Masa, while definitely showcasing some technique, felt like much of its cost was based off of expensive ingredients such as white truffles and fish flown in from Japan.

My first thought was that restaurants make money off of food and wine markups. So it seemed to me that Masa, where I felt we were really paying for ingredients, offered the worst value in that the money was going to the part of the equation where the restaurant makes the most money.

Thinking about it a little more, I don't think that's right. Mass produced base ingredients are so cheap that regular restaurants can easily end up with markups that are many multiples of the ingredient cost. However, I don't think that applies to really expensive ingredients. For example, just recently, a bluefin tuna sold for a record 32.49 million yen (just shy of USD$400,000) at auction. I wonder how they will recoup their investment, let alone make money.

Of course a restaurant may sell one rare item, such as the aforementioned bluefin tuna, at cost in the hopes of creating business by generating more wine sales or just increasing publicity. However, a restaurant takes much more risk when dealing with rare, expensive ingredients. You can't just refire a dish because you overcooked it or undercooked it.

So is there a reasonable argument that there is actually more value to be had at expensive restaurants serving expensive, rare, perishable ingredients?

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  1. Depending on your definition of "value", then yes. Or no.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Harters

      Exactly. Im not sure which perspective you are taking, the diner or the owner. Value means something different to each.

      With Masa, you are definitely paying for his time in addition to a mark up on the ingredients.
      The guys the who bought that tuna will not make money on that fish. Some estimates suggest that a single piece of otoro from that fish cost $100. They will however, make money off all the publicity the purchase has created. It will draw people to the restaurants.