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Cost Of Eating Out In Manhattan!

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I am just curious why people in NYC would pay so much for just a meal? I have talked to friends who went to NYC and also checked out the MenuPages web site. To say I am shocked at what a simple meal of spaghetti and meatballs costs in NYC is putting it mildly.

I would think it is easier to cook your own meals. I am not cheap but I refuse to pay almost $20 for a basic hamburger with nothing else with it when I can make it myself for a lot less.

No wonder people tell me you have to be rich to live in NYC. Your paychecks must all go for rent and food. I applaud anyone who can have a good life in NYC on an average paycheck.

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  1. While some places are definitely overpriced for what you get (you might be paying more for scene, location, etc.), you generally pay for quality. I don't think food prices in Manhattan are that far out of line with the rest of the country. In the vast majority of cases, I believe that if you transplanted a specific restaurant from NYC to another "food city" (i.e., one where people are willing to pay for it) with a cheaper cost of living--Portland OR, for example--prices would likely be very similar.

    Just like any other large city, there's also a range in restaurants, from ultra-fine dining to various "ethnic" holes in the wall where you can fill up for just a couple of dollars. Also bear in mind that the overall cost of living in NYC is very high, and many paychecks reflect that.

    1. 1) Putting aside the high-end restaurants where part of your bill is going towards paying for the large staff that helps ensure an optimal customer experience, you're paying for high quality food that the restaurant cooks with. To use fish as an example, these restaurants are not using farm raised fish sold in the freezer section of the supermarket, but freshly caught wild fish. At the really expensive places they're serving fish that was caught 24 hours ago halfway around the world -- you're paying for the shipping expense.

      2) Every city, no matter it's size (well, maybe 50k is the threshold) has its share of expensive restaurants. New York has more of them because it's the largest city in the United States as well as the top tourist destination.

      3) There are plenty of reasonably priced places in New York.

      4) Restaurants with double digit burgers are likely using high quality meat, grinding it themselves, with their own custom blend beef cuts. While I'm sure there is some NYC markup in there, you still cannot compare it to the ground beef being sold in your supermarket.

      1. I've noticed that many tourists do not venture far from midtown, or other areas in Manhattan popular with visitors, where in my experience, restaurants can be expensive. However, a little off the beaten track, such as further uptown or into the outer boroughs many wonderful, reasonably restaurants can be found.

        2 Replies
        1. re: liblraryld

          In Chinatown, there are loads of inexpensive places.

          1. re: Pan

            Exactly. I was shocked by the quality and cost of food we got at Grand Sichuan this summer. We were so happy with it, we went two days in a row.

        2. First - yes, it is possible to get meals in New York that are very good and not pricey. I have an uncle that lives in lower Manhattan and over the years have been treated to many Chinatown delights that are not terribly expensive.

          That being said, if the overall cost of New York restaurant meals is more compared to other US cities - I wonder how much of that relates to the reality that overhead (aka rent) in New York is going to be more than most other places in the US. Also because cost of living is higher in New York, your average doctor, nurse, teacher, etc. is often paid more than they are in cheaper places. So not commenting on the $20 hamburger - but as people are typically making a bit more - absorbs a degree of the price increase compared to someone visiting New York on a non-New York salary.

          1. Tokyo is another city with incredibly high prices at times, but there are also places in my neighborhood (Shibuya, quite central) where I can get a simple meal for less than $10, there is really no tipping here either.

            1. You don't *have* to spend that much to eat well in Manhattan. Of course there are tons of pricier places (more high-end, more tourist-oriented) but there are plenty that are not.

              The reason your hamburger at home is cheaper is because you're not paying separate rent for your kitchen, giving yourself a salary to cook/serve the burger, factoring in the cost of your laundry or insurance or website hosting. Restaurants are a business, not a food bank--they have to charge more than it would cost you to make it at home.

              1. I don't live in NYC but I've visited several times. It's just as easy to find excellent value as it is overpriced $20 hamburgers. Just do some research on here and yelp and you'll find LOTS of excellent things to eat under $10. Prosperity Dumplings for example are 6 for $2 or something ridiculous like that and they are really good. My last trip out, earlier this year, I didn't have a single meal over $15. Please also note that I didn't eat at any places with a waitstaff either. I care about the food itself and could care less about a prime location or atmosphere.

                1. For every "$20 burger" there are several other choices that are not so pricey. There are many local places that do a lot of foods well, and that are not overpriced. It really depends on where you go.

                  $20 in Chinatown can get you noodle soups for 3 people, including tip.
                  $20 at Katz's gets you a pastrami sandwich and a knish that can easily be split between 2 people.
                  $20 at B&H Dairy can get you 2 daily specials (and the portions are generous)
                  $20 at Tribeca Taco Truck gets you 3-4 burritos or 6-7 tacos, depending on what you want them filled with.

                  And I could not make any of those things listed above as well as those who offer them for sale.

                  1. As everyone has noted, you don't have to eat a $20 burger. Plenty of cheaper options. You got Shake Shack where its $7. When the burger is in the $20+ range, its not something that you can just whip up at home. One burger that comes to mind is the DB burger. Its $32. Stuffed with braised short rib and foie gras. Very nice and I doubt you could make that at home. Is it worth $32? The answer will vary with every person you ask. But NYC is an expensive place. The high end is higher than what most people could ever imagine spending for food. I wonder if I've been in NYC too long. I was at a dinner recently at one of the nicer places in the city. The prix fixe was $88 and the first thought I had was how reasonable the price seemed for the caliber of the place. I lot of people would have gagged at that number.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: Bkeats

                      "As everyone has noted, you don't have to eat a $20 burger."

                      Great point. As we most often do "fine-dining," wherever we go, it is close to "apples to apples" for us, where we travel. Still, while not cheap, compared to some other places, NYC is not at the top of our "high-priced" list, and has always been very good to down-right excellent, and a decent "value."

                      Hunt

                    2. So very much will depend on what one considers "normal," and what they normally pay. To one, the prices can seem astronomical, but to others, pretty good deals for the $.

                      For the last 30 years, we have both lived in, and traveled to "resort areas." We are accustomed to having higher prices, than much of the world. During the last 15 years, we also travel to London, not one of the cheaper cities on Earth.

                      When in NYC, we do not find thing THAT expensive. Compared to some other locations, around the world, the prices are not THAT high - about what we pay in London, Paris, Rome, Phoenix, San Francisco, Chicago, Aspen and Vail. Not cheap, by anyone's standards, BUT not the most expensive in the list - and quite good.

                      Now, and for us, New Orleans is one of the best culinary "deals" in the world.

                      Hunt

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: Bill Hunt

                        Agreed, Bill.

                        Some cities are just expensive. New York is expensive. London is expensive. Paris is expensive. There are whole issues about urban economics that come play - rents can be high, wages costs can be high. There can be other costs - the "going rate" for tipping in London is 12.5%, yet in the rest of the UK, it's still 10%.

                        Yet, in all three of those cities, it is possible to eat at very reasonable cost. And locals will often know where those places are. Visitors (and I'm a visitor to all three of those cities) do not necessarily know where's the cheap eats. And, often, visitors are often not looking for cheap eats. We're often looking for the iconic places of those cities - yep, a high level Michelin starred place can be as much a tourist trap, as the crappy pasta chain on the main streets.

                        1. re: Harters

                          John,

                          I completely agree. We normally go for "fine-dining" for our evening meal, almost regardless of location. That is one reason that I can offer little, to nothing, when an OP wants a "cheap meal," on many of the boards, that I frequent - we just do not do that many, on our often abbreviated trips. That holds for London, New Orleans, Phoenix (our hometown now), Hawaii, Central South, NYC, and San Francisco boards. I am certain that there ARE some great meals, to be had for fewer $'s, or £'s, but I seldom know them anymore. When we lived in New Orleans, we DID know many more, but that was decades ago.

                          Hunt

                      2. As others have said, NYC is an expensive place, and a restaurant has to pay its employees, and rent, and utilities, and advertising in that expensive venue. So that can boost up the price compared to cheaper parts of the country.

                        There are some other effects too. Eating out isn't just about the food - it's almost always cheaper to cook at home than to eat out (except where I live, for some reason). It's partially because you don't have to pay for labour, and licensing fees, and insurance, and keeping your kitchen up to inspection standards, and advertising, and make enough of a profit to live on on top of that.

                        Some places are expensive because of the venue - it's a place to socialize as much as it is to eat, or a place to be seen. You're paying for the experience as well as the food.

                        There's also a statistical effect. I grew up in a town of about 70,000. The majority of the restaurants were what I would consider mid range or budget - chain restaurants, fast food, small, dingy strip-mall places, a scattering of small family run Asian or Indian places, the obligatory Chinese Buffet. There were a few nicer places, more expensive, but not exorbitantly so. I have since lived in several large cities, where there are hundreds of times more restaurants. There are a lot of average ones. However, there are also a lot of very cheap places that get by on volume, low operating costs, and doing one or two things really well - a smaller city doesn't have the volume to support ones like that. And there are also a lot of more expensive, or extremely expensive places that can survive because there are enough people willing to spend that much on a meal - the 1% corresponds to more people total, plus you've got high end visitors coming through for business, or entertainment.

                        And there's the tourist effect - when you eat in a city as a tourist, you're often paying more for what you eat than locals would, partly because restaurants near tourist attractions can cost more for the value, and partly because you don't know where the really good deals are.

                        5 Replies
                        1. re: tastesgoodwhatisit

                          If you're interested in good food and good deals, there's almost no excuse for not finding them these days. There are many research tools - guide books, discussion boards like this one, local boards and review sites. And it's the internet that has changed things.

                          For example, I've been visiting America since 1980, usually touring and often not staying in major urban areas. I used to complain about the poor quality food I'd experience (and still have the occasional bad experience). But, in recent years, Googling on "restaurant" and the town name usually throws up enough places that are worth checking out. And I reckon on my last couple of trips, I've eaten well.

                          Even when on holiday in tourist resorts here in Europe, it is possible to run internet searches that are going to find you the better places to try. You're going to come away from that holiday better fed than if you simply left it to chance wandering round looking for somewhere to eat.

                          1. re: Harters

                            What Harters said.

                            1. re: Harters

                              John,

                              Even for US residents, and even some "locals," bad food can happen. Sad comment, but I have found it true, and even in my local (Phoenix, USA hometown, where I should know better).

                              I have also plowed through London with a 12th generation "local," and found similar. It can, and does happen.

                              Now, we travel a lot, and there ARE some new areas, with which we have little, to no experience with. I usually explain what we are looking for, in a CH post, and have never been steered wrong. Now, we obviously cannot try every rec., but I weigh my choices from the replies, and have NEVER had a bad experience. My ultimate choice might not have been the "ultimate" in that area/city, but then, it was MY choice, and all have been very good.

                              As far as some of the "other" dining boards, well let me just say that I have been less than impressed. Also, when I do a Search on "fine-dining" in city ____, and get 30 Pizza Huts, 50 McDonald's, and 30 Burger Kings, it can be tough to dig though all of that. Maybe that is why I come first to CH, and the local boards for the reccs. first.

                              Hunt

                              Hunt

                            2. re: tastesgoodwhatisit

                              Well-stated.

                              When we are in NYC (and many other cities around the world), we are usually looking for a "grand dining experience," and just expect to pay for it.

                              That is not meant to diss and street vendors, smaller restaurants, or food trucks, but when we are in such cities, we want something totally memorable, regarding both the food, and the wine. Also, service should be right up there too.

                              Historically, I get but a few nights in the city, so we do by-pass some potentially great food, in lesser restaurants, for those "grand dining experiences," in each city.

                              Give me a month in New Orleans, without any family duties involved, and I would get "back to my roots," for some meals. Give me 2 nights, and things change greatly.

                              While I am in San Francisco, up to 24x per year, I usually only have 2 - 3 nights per trip. If things hold, per "normal," then I get to dine with my wife, but one of those nights - I want that to be special. On the "solo nights," I am trying out potential restaurants, for our next trip. Hey, tough job, but someone has to do it. If there ARE lunches (not that often, except for some wine), then I will explore some great, local, non-fine-dining locations, and enjoy them greatly.

                              Back to this topic: when in NYC, we are usually very limited in the number of meals available to us, so we will opt for Le Bernardin, Per Se, Restaurant Daniel, etc. Two weeks ago, we were in Chicago, USA, for but two nights. We chose Tru and Everest for those nights. Did we miss some "local gems?" Of course, but that is to be expected. Were they expensive? Yes, but we knew that, going in. Were they good? Absolutely, though neither was perfect, per our experiences at Restaurant Daniel and Le Bernardin.

                              It is the same, with Las Vegas. First, I seldom accompany my wife, unless the meeting allows me at least two nights of dining with her. I have no other reason to go to LV, except for dining. When we DO get a couple of nights, it's always fine-dining, and I get to pick. Are there good restaurants, below that upper level? Of course, but I have not had time to explore them, and likely will not.

                              This is my personal choice, and my personal observations. It should, in no way, deride any other restaurants, that might have great food, at a wonderful price-point. The locals, or frequent visitors, with much more time, will have to recommend those.

                              Hunt

                              1. re: Bill Hunt

                                Hi Bill,

                                Le Bernardin, Per Se, Daniel are places Deb and I frequent. They are universally recognized and seldom (outside of a few hiccups) fail to deliver. Further, I like being recognized at these outposts of culinary excellence but that's a personal conceit. Having said all that, there seems to be a sameness among those three outstanding destinations that I've been trying to address in my travels.

                                I like sitting at the copper-topped bar (six seats?) at Cotogna in San Francisco. Buffalo always builds me a great martini there. The food is wonderful, the Tusks insist. Roscioli in Rome is a deli with tables in the back and an incredible wine inventory. You sit elbow-to-elbow with your neighbors but the burrata and the carbonara are the best in town. I can go on but my point is simple: sometimes it's good to get out of our comfort zones and hunt stuff out.

                                Neither Cotogna nor Roscioli now fly under the radar. Rather, they have become favorites the world over. I found 'em before the yelpers. You're an intrepid traveller. Get busy.

                            3. Marianne, you are definitely eating in the wrong places.
                              There are so many "neighborhood" restaurants where you will have a fabulous meal for a reasonable price.
                              Ask for suggestions the next time you are heading to NYC.

                              1. Not to explain why a hamburger cost $20 but perhaps to explain why New Yorkers will pay it and many times gladly. As here is Paris, rents are very high, thus space may be limited in your apartment and your kitchen may be teeny. As a result why spend an evening in a apartment. Go out for a good meal, not necessarily expensive but good, it is one of the many ways you can reward yourself for working hard in a huge metropolis.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: Delucacheesemonger

                                  Good points.

                                  I have had great US $ 20 hamburgers, but then some pretty bad ones too. I have had great US $ 10 hamburgers, but some pretty bad ones too. It just happens.

                                  Hunt

                                2. I agree that it is expensive to eat out in Manhattan. As others have stated there are cheaper choices and some prices may be higher since the restaurant's rent is probably very high and employees' salaries may be larger.
                                  But to answer your question of why people in Manhattan are willing to pay so much for a meal I believe it is due to the nyc lifestyle. Aside from naive tourists who fall for overpriced junk, people are busy and stressed and go out to unwind and see and be seen, it is less about the food and more about going out. Many people do not have time to grocery shop and cook. Also a trip to the grocery store could entail walking multiple blocks and carrying heavy groceries up flights and flights of stairs. And many people's kitchens are so tiny that they are not conducive to cooking. City life is very different from suburban life. People go out because cooking at home is a hassle that they do not have time for and with so many restaurants and people around they want to be social. Not to mention all the corporate dining that is going on and the fact that there are a lot of wealthy people who are not phased by a $20 hamburger.

                                  6 Replies
                                  1. re: WhatsEatingYou

                                    Further to these points - I love to cook and did plenty of cooking at home even when I lived alone - however, having been in a tiny, overpriced, narrow-aisled Manhattan grocery store, not so appealing.

                                    1. re: WhatsEatingYou

                                      WhatsEatingYou's post mentions it, but I think it bears further explanations.The lifestyle in NYC is very busy. Work is all consuming for a large part of the population. In my first job, 12+ hour days were typical. All nighters happened on a regular basis. Just because it was the weekend did not mean you didn't go into the office. Even now when I'm settled in my career and have a fairly senior role, 10-12 hours a day is the norm. Same for my wife. Throw in kids and time for cooking at home becomes limited. We do what we can to have family dinners at home. But even in the BC(before children) era by the end of the work day, who had the energy to cook? You work really hard, you get paid well for your work, you're hungry so why wouldn't you go out and get dinner? Even though it may seem expensive in comparison to other places, it works in the city lifestyle.

                                      1. re: Bkeats

                                        I agree completely, though we have no children to factor in, and often wonder what our "home town" is nowadays. Time is precious. We attempt to get the greatest ROI on every night's dining.

                                        Thank you,

                                        Hunt

                                      2. re: WhatsEatingYou

                                        You think many New Yorkers care greatly about seeing and being seen? I thought we New Yorkers mostly ignored or at least exercised discretion when spotting famous people, and it was mostly people visiting our city who cared a lot about who might be at a restaurant, rather than how the food and drink are. OK, maybe there are some wealthy society people who care a lot about image, and some fashion-obsessed younger people, too, but most of those of us who eat out regularly, I would think - and not just on weekends or for special occasions - care more about enjoying our food and feeling reasonably comfortable with our surroundings (which to me doesn't usually mean exciting decor or fantastic service, but rather, a casual place where I can enjoy myself at the end of a work day). Most New Yorkers who eat out a lot don't go to expensive, showy, or fashionable places most of the time, but instead frequent low- and mid-priced restaurants most often.

                                        I also disagree with you somewhat about supermarkets. Many parts of Manhattan have supermarkets within a block or two, plus you can get delivery if you need it.

                                        1. re: Pan

                                          I did not mean 'see and be seen' as in celebrity spottings I was referring to being social, seeing your friends and eating at trendy restaurants for the ambiance or crowd. The funny thing is that a mid-priced restaurant to a local new yorker probably would have a $20 burger.
                                          Also, yes there are many supermarkets but if you are shopping at your local corner store prices are going to be 2X as much which negates saving money by buying groceries!

                                          1. re: WhatsEatingYou

                                            Many New Yorkers aren't into being trendy. And I think of mid-priced as being about $50-65/person for a full dinner, including a glass of wine, tax and tip - places like Lupa and Crispo, for example. I don't think such a place is likely to have a $20 burger.

                                      3. It is very possible to eat well in Manhattan for less. I've always lived on a pretty modest income. Aside from the past two years I averaged 10 days a year in the NYC area. I ate very well for the same or less than I would at home.

                                        In many cases the quality, selection and the quantity was greater than a meal in my city - which evened out cases of price differences. There are few places in the US where you have the choice of so many wonderful options in such an easily accessible area. A visit to NYC would be worth it for the food alone!