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Nov 8, 2011 04:53 AM

Embarrassingly dumb article on overpriced restaurant foods


Its basic premise is, "Hey, you know you're getting *ripped off* with certain restaurant dishes, because the ingredients are really cheap and their markups are huge and you could easily make them at home?"

Bet that's a real newsflash to Forbes readers: "Pasta is not an expensive food ingredient, and all you have to do is boil it, yet you may pay $10 and up for a plate of spaghetti and meatballs." Amazing the author missed the chance to point out that wine is often marked up by 300% and more: you could save a bundle drinking at home in a dark room by yourself, you know!

Never mind the other thuddingly-obvious points utterly missed here, like:

a) Yeah, you could make chicken wings at home, but it's messy, and as cheap kicks go, it's hard to beat woofing down a plate of them with your buddies at your local while the game's on.

b) Some folks are willing to pay a premium for a bone-in steak because it's generally tastier than its boneless equivalent.

c) Most restaurants operate on razor-thin margins, so if a few folks don't order the high-profit dishes like pasta and meatloaf, the joint is going out of business. Is that really what Forbes readers want to see?

d) Nothing sucks the joy from a nice evening out quite like the person at the table fiddling with their abacus to arrive at gross margins so they can get the best deal on the menu. Many of the pleasures of dining out cannot be figured on a calculator.

I'll grant the point about unsustainably farmed shrimp, but that's not really of a piece with the rest of the article, which hammers on the theme, "This is much more expensive in a restaurant than it would be at retail." I understand that. And yet I'm still dining out, despite knowing something about food costs, and recognizing that some dishes are far more labor-intensive than others. Yeah, I can whip up guacamole in a few seconds at home: I still order it out with some frequency, and don't waste a second fretting about the price.

You'd also think a Forbes article might make some mention of restaurateurs' rising costs over the past couple of years: for basic foodstuffs, for online reservations, for Groupon-like promotions, etc., to say nothing of the challenges that independents face trying to compete with the scale advantages of increasingly ubiquitous chains, depressed spending on dining out under high unemployment, and how the growing popularity of small plates challenges the assumption that everyone is getting an app and an entree. Seems like some business context for the rationale behind restaurant pricing is sorely missing from this business-magazine feature.

I am a value-conscious consumer, do tend to favor restaurants where I feel the overall experience was worth the money, generally don't return to places where I felt like I got swindled. But there's way more to this value calculus than understanding the difference between what a box of linguine costs at my supermarket and what my local restaurateur charges for a pasta course. The kind of people that don't understand this, I don't want to share a dinner table with.

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  1. Ripping you off all the way to a 5-8% profit margin! those scoundrels.

    Did the author also realize the paper Forbes print edition is produced on only costs 30 cents but they rip everyine off by charging several dollars for it?

    1 Reply
    1. re: sbs401

      And you could sew your own clothes for 1/10th the price of high end department stores!

      Ugh. What a reductive MBA approach...everything becomes a cell in a spreadsheet and calculated. What do you enter for "what I feel like eating tonight"?

      1. re: MsDiPesto

        The author's credentials: a wine and culinary diploma from Leith's School of Food and Wine, MA in English from Oxford, MSc in International Relations from the London School of Economics, MA in Journalism from NYU.

        But I guess it's about writing for your audience.

        1. re: MC Slim JB

          It's pretty amateurish for the Forbes audience that has an average income of $275,000 and a $2 million net worth.

      2. I don't know if it was always like this, but I think that the current Forbes model (online at least) is to just troll for as many page-views as possible. That's why they're always producing things like "13 Awesomest Towns" where you have to click to a new page for each item in the list.

        1 Reply
        1. re: zooxanthellae

          Completely agree. Thuddingly-stupid Forbes article is redundant.

        2. reminds me of a man I went out with just after college who was only willing to go out to eat at buffets because you could "get your money's worth" that way. YUCK.

          1 Reply
          1. re: ChefJune

            I'm guessing that was a VERY short relationship :)