Even more at steak

It appears the ol’ American Express card is due for quite a workout:

A new dish is appearing on menus across the nation. Restaurateurs say they have little choice other than offer it, though it horrifies many customers.

That item is the $40 entree.

Until recently, such prices were the stuff of four-star, white-tablecloth meals, the kind that ended with a diamond ring on the petit four tray. But now entrees over $40 can be found in restaurants that are merely upscale, where diners wear jeans and tote children.

Yes, even in Oklahoma City. I checked a few menus this weekend, and while $30-35 is more common, there are entrees at or above the $40 level. The industrial-strength delicacies, of course, run much more. (Lobster tail, of late, is around $75.)

Not that there’s going to be any real backlash:

[W]hat makes the rise of the $40 entree so significant is not just the price creep, it’s the sophisticated calculation behind it. A new breed of menu “engineers” have proved that highly priced entrees increase revenue even if no one orders them. A $43 entree makes a $36 one look like a deal.

“Just putting one high price on the menu will take your average check up,” said Gregg Rapp, one such consultant. “My mom taught me to never order the most expensive thing on the menu, but you’ll order the second.”

Of course, you’re paying for expertise and atmosphere; I can grill up a sixteen-ounce ribeye for $11 and eat it at the breakfast bar, or I can go someplace nice and pay three or four times as much. As a practical matter, though, I’m not going to worry until the Wendy’s Classic Double hits $5.

(Via Population Statistic.)


  1. triticale »

    22 October 2006 · 8:53 pm

    The wee wifey and I went out to a corporate chain restaurant, as we do a couple times a year, to celebrate our 406th monthiversary, which happened to fall on Sweetest Day. Taking advantage of a short-term advertised special, the total tab for the two of us came to $38.00. Drinks, by the way were our usual ice water. Didn’t even look at the main menu; just scanned the specials card to confirm the deal. If they had something for $43 on the main menu its only effect would have been to amuse us. The special was probably intended to get us hooked, but our next restaurant meal will no doubt be back at the $6 Thai buffet.

  2. CGHill »

    22 October 2006 · 9:14 pm

    Last time I unsheathed the Amex for dinner, it was around $62 for three of us. I am not by nature a Really Big Spender.

  3. McGehee »

    22 October 2006 · 10:30 pm

    In Jacksonville a couple of years ago, my wife and I thought it would be great to go across the river and eat at Ruth’s Chris.

    When we looked at the menu we decided on the small sirloin, no trimmings or side dishes. And just water, thank you.

    Lord have mercy. If any place we’re accustomed to going — even on special occasions — grows a $40 entree, we’ll get up and leave. And if we decide we want to go someplace shmancy again like Ruth’s Chris, someone else will be buying.

  4. CT »

    23 October 2006 · 9:39 am

    No need for me to invoke the typical eye-poppers on NYC fine dining entree lists…

    I was more surprised that this inflation was happening outside NYC, San Francisco and other dining meccas, and even more surprised that chains were pulling it. Forty dollars for an Outback-generated burnt slab? No thanks.

    However, it all fits in with the concept that you’re not getting just vittles on a plate, but (supposedly) a full experience. Like you said, it’s one thing to sit at your breakfast bar, another to be out and about. They’ve adopted the same premise that’s brought about $200+ concert tickets for Cher…

    Smart move to go with ice water. Drinks, especially fountain drinks, are consistently the highest-margin item on the menu. That $2 iced tea costs a total of 5 cents to make, including the ice and the straw. That’s why the refills are free!

  5. fritz schranck »

    23 October 2006 · 8:16 pm

    $75 for Lobster Tail? Must be something in the transporting to mid-America.

    At one of our favorite restaurants here there’s a weekly special for a 1 1/4 pound lobster platter for $14.95–see http://stoneylonen.com/specials.html

    $40 entrees aren’t exactly unknown here, either, but still.

    When you come back East, we’ll go there.


  6. CGHill »

    23 October 2006 · 8:30 pm

    Well, we get fairly decent seafood down here, but it’s not like we catch it in Crutcho Creek, so I assume somebody has to fly it in.

    And lobster was everywhere when I went to Maine in ’05; I expected to see it on the drive-thru menu at Mickey D’s.

  7. Andrea Harris »

    23 October 2006 · 9:29 pm

    I will continue to follow my strange personal custom of ordering my restaurant meals based on what foodstuffs they consist of instead of how much they cost.

  8. witch »

    24 October 2006 · 5:26 am

    Fried mushrooms and iced tea thank you, I don’t need no $40 entree. have a nice day!

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