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A question for those that spend a lot eating out.

Mostly my OH and I will spend a max of £100 (about $160) on a meal for two if we are eating out somewhere special - so only two or three times a year.

Now I know of people who will regularly spend at least three times this on a meal for two and often tell me that I am missing out by not eating at the various Michelin starred restaurants they frequent.

Now we could afford to spend £300, but choose not to. Partly because I feel the rule of diminishing returns applied (would we get £200 more enjoyment over our £100 meal - unlikely) and because I feel that it is slightly frivolous to spend what is one month's supermarket bill on one night out.

I understand that some of the £300 will be used to pay wages of staff, but I guess a lot will go to the restaurant owner/head chef, but I do kind of feel that a lot of top restaurants are ripping off their customers.

So my question to those of you who do partake of fine dining, how do you get over the moral issues. Is it something you ever think about? Do you ever feel you have been ripped off?

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  1. Eating out is a hobby for us - going beyond the need to just get fed. And, yes, we're prepared to spend money on it. Cost of meal for two is, on average, in the £75 - £100 bracket - some meals will be less, others more.

    I don't really think about the amount we spend and certainly don't have a moral issue over it. I happily accept that some folk couldnt afford to spend as we do, or choose not to spend that amount or, simply, wouldnt enjoy the experiences as a hobby.

    You ask whether I've ever felt ripped off. Well, no, not really. I've felt experiences havnt been value for money - but we've always gone to a place knowing how much it was going to cost. And I confidently say I've had more poor value meals at the bottom end of the market than I have at the top end. BY way of explanation - we recently had a meal at a local bistro type place, that we've been to several times. There's a set menu of three courses for £15.95. A bargain, you might think, and usually you'd be right. But this was really poor cheap and nasty ingredients badly cooked. On the nother hand, for our last anniversary, we went to the Waterside Inn where the set menu is £152 per head. It was a lovely evening - fantastic food, cooked as you might expect from a Michelin 3* chef. It was worth every penny (to which, add the cost of a 400 mile round trip, overnight hotel , lunches, etc.) .

    As to the potential rip-off. the above still applies. There's a rule of thumb in the restaurant trade, generally applying that a third of the menu price will be food costs, a third will be staff wages and a third will be gross profit for the owner (out of which rents, company taxes, sundries, etc will be paid, as well as the owner's net profit). Whe you realise that, then you have to be concerned about the quality of food being served in apparent "cheap" places.

    6 Replies
    1. re: Harters

      Cheers Harters - maybe I should give the Waterside a try at some point.

      I enjoy food and cooking, so often I look for something that I couldn't create at home - but do quite often look at my plate and price up what it would have cost if I had cooked it at home.

      I guess it maybe because my OH and I are the "wealthy" side of our families (no kids) and I feel that I couldn't justify spending huge amounts when my sister is scraping the money together to replace the tyres on her car (and yes I do help her out when she will let me).

      1. re: PhilipS

        My partner occasionally goes on a guilt trip as we are the "wealthy" side of the family as well. It tends not to last too long and, if it does, I remind her that we made different life choices than other family members which means we have a more secure financial life now we've retired.

        1. re: PhilipS

          While I seldom "do the math," I think that what you state is why I am not a big fan of "steakhouses" (very popular in the US). I want something that we cannot do better at, back home. Same for a wine list: I do not want the "stuff" in my cellar. I have many bottles of that. I want a sommelier to reach a bit, and broaden my horizons, or introduce a pairing, that I would never have thought of, even if I have fine examples in that cellar. I try to not go with "old favs." and will usually try a producer, a Region, or similar, that I do not own many perfect examples of. I want everything to be better, or at least different, than what I have at home, and I am a great griller, and my wife could be a chef, if she were not so good at other things.

          Good points,

          Hunt

          1. re: Bill Hunt

            I think that I am lucky in that I have not mastered steak cookery yet. (and neither has my dh).

            As someone with a multitude of allergies, steak and a baked potato is often the only thing that I can have at restaurants.

            I definitely have issues ordering a few dishes out that I always do better at home...maybe it is best for me to stop trying to cook the perfect steak, because then I'll never have to regret having to order one in a restaurant.

        2. re: Harters

          Haters,

          Great point! Well-stated!

          Once, we lived in New Orleans, where I contended that "folk lived to eat." Then, we moved elsewhere in the US, where I maintained that "folk ate to live." I still stand by those terms, and descriptions.

          Now, with that said, the price of a restaurant is no guarantee, that one will have a marvelously memorable experience, but in general, my experience points in that direction - just not always.

          Over the decades, the continents and the miles, the "rip-offs" have been very few, and far between, however, there have been some, and those WERE memorable.

          I loved your comment that "fine-dining is a hobby." I share that with you, and would not have it any other way. Like I said elsewhere in this thread, I have few vices, but fine-dining IS one.

          Hunt

        3. There is NO moral issues at paying a big amount of money for a high end restaurant.

          At high end restaurants, most of the money does not go to the owners, it goes into paying employees, rent, equipment, silverware/flatware, food products, wine, ...

          Do not believe that all chefs make tons of money; yes a few very visible chefs do make money, but most of them, even for very good restaurants just survive.

          I got ripped off more often by middle-level restaurants trying too much to be high-end restaurants by offering ordinary food in "swanky" settings.

          Most of the high-end restaurants I've had the luck to eat in were quite generous, serving good quantity of high quality food (from start to end of meal)

          5 Replies
          1. re: Maximilien

            "Do not believe that all chefs make tons of money; yes a few very visible chefs do make money, but most of them, even for very good restaurants just survive."

            LOL - our local "celebrity" chef must be the exception as he added a brand new Porsche and Land Cruiser to his fleet last year.

            1. re: PhilipS

              Does that chef offer great dining experiences?

              If so, then I would never begrudge them success. Often, a great chef was not always in that role. Often, they were doing line-work, for many, thankless hours.

              Now, that does not mean that all "great chefs" can coast, with absentee restaurants, that barely accommodate the diners. They do not get a "free pass," at least from me. Even after the name has been made, I expect them to satisfy me - keep my interest, and make me feel great joy, at dining at their restaurant. Several of the biggest "media chefs" in the US, have never impressed me, so I do not feel that they are any longer worth their new Gulfstream. OTOH, there are a few, who still keep me on the edge of my chair, and I do not have a problem with their fame, or their fortunes.

              In Dec., we're doing a personal trip to London, and are dining with Gordon Ramsey for three of five nights. So long as he, his staff, and his restaurants, come through for us, we'll help pay for his Range Rovers. Not sure what else is in his stable, but so long as his folk do their jobs for us, then hats off to him.

              Also, we have several "world-class" chefs in our city, Phoenix, AZ, USA, who are very successful, but there is hardly any charity event, where they, or their restaurants, are not an active part. Most "pay back" to the local community, and that is greatly appreciated.

              Hunt

              1. re: Bill Hunt

                I ate at one of Cat Cora's (former Iron Chef) restaurants a couple years back, and it was one of the most disappointing meals in the last five years. So I'm right there with you, Hunt, on chefs coasting... I was actually bordering on angry, since I got suckered in by the name, paid through the teeth, and the food was not good. Note, I don't say that it wasn't spectacular. It was not even good.

                1. re: kubasd

                  Sometimes, I think that it's a "corporate thing." A chef does well, gets noticed, and either forms a corporation, or is recruited to one. Things might go well, or maybe not. Possibly, much depends on how much "skin" the chef has in the game.

                  I have dined at several "absentee chef" restaurants, that left a lot to be desired. Could be various reasons for that, but I see it all too often.

                  However, we just did Joel Robuchon's in LV, and everything was excellent. Now, we had just done his L'Atelier in Paris, and our sommelier mentioned that the two restaurants, L'Atelier and Joel Robuchon in LV were Chef Robucon's favorites, so though he was not there (his L'Atelier in LV was one of our favorites, throughout the world), the management runs things, as though he was.

                  I have found the same with several Gordon Ramsay restaurants in the UK - Chef Ramsay has never been in attendance, but you would never know it from the great food and service. Not sure how much better they could have been?

                  Sometimes "the magic works," but sometimes it does not. It just depends.

                  I have never dined at a Cat Cora restaurant, so cannot comment there, but with some experiences with absentee chefs, I do not doubt it for a moment.

                  Hunt

            2. re: Maximilien

              And, when you spend money at a high end, non-chain resto, most of your money is going back into the local economy via wages, rent, locally sourced food, etc. Versus spending an equivalent sum at Walmart where far, far less goes back into the local economy.

              I wouldn't feel morally bad about it. Let your money trickle down.

            3. "So my question to those of you who do partake of fine dining, how do you get over the moral issues. Is it something you ever think about? Do you ever feel you have been ripped off?"

              What moral issue. I enjoy eating out, I spend my own money that I earned doing it, and I choose where I eat. There is no moral issue. Is it immoral to buy a nice car, watch, house, gift for friends, or whatever if you can afford to do so? I don't think so.

              2 Replies
              1. re: dinwiddie

                To cover all of your questions - NO. And, I feel no guilt in enjoying life. I give back, almost as much as I take, and feel no guilt for my life choices. Fine-dining is a big part of my life (unfortunately at the expense of a lot of great food, at other restaurants), and so be it.

                Great points!

                Hunt

                1. re: dinwiddie

                  Amen dinwiddie.

                  Not sure what moral issue I am supposed to have.

                2. I dine out often, say 3 times per week for lunch and 4 times per week for dinner, on average. Never have I ever felt any moral compunction for doing so.

                  In terms of dinner, around $100 for two is pretty standard, but this is mostly at pizza/sandwich/pub type places. I generally feel as if I get good value at these places, as they are generally establishments that I have come to know, understand and enjoy. Occasionally, maybe once every two weeks, I will go to a place I've never been before at this price-point, and the results can be hit-or-miss, but there have definitely been more hits than misses. Even at places that miss the mark, I generally feel that I get good value, even if the food, beverage or service isn't quite to my liking. It is rare that I feel ripped off when I dine out at this price point.

                  Once a week I like dining out at high-end establishments, either those I've been to before or one of the options I have yet to try. These dinners will often be in the $300-$400 range for two. I almost never feel ripped off by these experiences. The food, drink, service and venue are all generally top-notch at this price point, and I understand paying for it. The chef, cooks, servers and other staff that I know at these higher-end restaurants are not living lavish lifestyles, by any means.

                  Like Maximilien says upthread, I most often feel ripped off in that middle range, where I am paying around $200 for two at a place trying to be swanky but serving mediocre product with subpar service. As a result, I rarely dine at such places. There are exceptions, but I tend to enjoy myself more and feel my money is better spent at the low-end or the high-end rather than the midrange, where everything is often meh...

                  1. We eat out a lot especially when we are in NYC. We've "been there and done that" with the high end fancy places like EMP, Jean Georges, DelPosto etc. and found that your rule of "diminishing returns" applies.
                    When it's just us or us and friends we'll go to a neighborhood place that has great food and service without the tuxedos and fancy tablecloths.
                    When we are out for business we'll wow our out of town business associates with the high end places if that's what they desire.
                    Last year we took our mid West business assoc. to Jean Georges. He and his wife loved it but they said they want something with a little more NYC flavor this year. We'll take them to the Grand Central Oyster bar for appetizers and then to Katz's for a nice pastrami sammich and all the trimmings.