I could have made this at home

An industry response to diners’ food cost misconceptions

So, you’re dining out. Someone you’re with (or maybe even you!) says, “I could have made this at home for less.” Let’s be honest. One of you likely could have made some version of “this” at home, and possibly have spent less than the restaurant entree price to produce it for you and your family or friends. But would it really be the same as the experience you are having at a restaurant? 

I contacted some industry friends to get their thoughts on diners’ misconceptions about the cost of a restaurant entree.

“Anyone who has ever had a dinner party knows that there is a long list of things to get prepped other than just the food. Servers spend hours before a restaurant opens polishing all glassware and silverware. Laying out tablecloths, folding napkins, filling salt and pepper, grinding coffee, cutting fruit, etc. There is a lot of time spent on cleanup long after a guest leaves as well. All of the dishes are cleaned and polished, floors swept, pots and pans washed, kitchen, dining room and restroom cleaned. These are all time-consuming processes that are built into the price of your meal. These would cost your time at home, and there is certainly plenty of value in that.” —Hap Cohan, general manager, Seviche

(Writer’s note: Lest we forget, those pre-opening hours of chores are performed by servers at the princely wage of $2.13 per hour, the minimum wage for tipped employees. So remember to tip thoughtfully. Servers are not tucking $20 bills into their aprons during their entire shift.)

 “As chefs, we keep a good eye on what’s going on in the agriculture markets locally as well as worldwide. If the price of a single lime hits 97 cents and a single avocado is over $1, then there are tough decisions to make. There are a lot of things that affect the price of food that aren’t usually associated with the specific food. It’s how things are interconnected that creates high prices. There have been disasters, like the nuclear meltdown in Japan and the oil spill in the Gulf, that will affect the price of seafood indefinitely.

“In the end, it’s not the restaurant getting rich by taking advantage of customers, nor is it the farmers. We try and make good choices for what we feed our guests. We want to be proud of the cuisine we put on their plate. Even if it comes with the cost.” —Mark Ford, executive chef, St. Charles Exchange

“A relationship with my farmers, fishmongers or suppliers is as important to me as the creations we put out daily. I have a responsibility to my guests to source and use the most natural and sustainable products I can bring into my kitchen. No major-supplier truck comes and delivers everything. Instead, I have several people deliver different things that they specialize in.” —Anthony Lamas, chef-owner, Seviche 

My friend Fitz had my favorite take on a diner’s perception of value, one that I think is easily relatable to all of us.  

“Imagine you are hung over on a Sunday and all you want is pancakes and bacon. You could lumber out of bed, go to the grocery and stagger the aisles like a dehydrated zombie to get the mix, eggs, syrup, bacon and what the hell ever you need to make pancakes, wait in line behind the angry old old man that doesn’t know how the [self-scanner] works, or the woman with 30 items in the express lane that ends up paying with change. Or, you could go, bleary-eyed, to Wild Eggs, sit at a table and just say the word ‘pancakes,’ and they will appear before you as if by magic. You don’t have to think of anything, especially how to allocate the money from your order towards the napkin or water glass or the cup of syrup. If you ask me, that extra $10 in your pocket isn’t looking all that valuable anymore.” —Justin Fitzgerald, dining room manager, Louisville Country Club

Sometimes, you just want someone to wait on you, to serve you. When you do, keep in mind that service extras and the sourcing of quality ingredients are built into the price of your restaurant meal.