I happened to see an article from the NYPost, part of which I’m going to paste below. If you don’t want to read it all, the important parts are in bold:
“It’s insanity!” says 28-year-old public relations consultant Erin Ward, who was recently on line at a Midtown salad bar. “You’re not paying for the food at that point. You’re paying for the name.”
Indeed, a salad with similar ingredients — diced chicken breast, bacon, blue cheese, hard-boiled egg, avocado, tomato and baby greens — from run-of-the-mill takeout joint Café Metro costs just $9.57 with tax.
And yet some New Yorkers are willing to pay even more green for their greens. Now that summer’s officially here, the city’s most exclusive restaurants are awash in exorbitantly priced rabbit food. The luxe leaves are selling so well that chefs are staffing up the garde manger cold station just to meet the warm-weather demand.
Call them “status salads” — among them the $55 lobster-and-black-truffle salad at the consummate Midtown power lunch spot Four Seasons and the $25 chopped chicken salad at Fred’s at Barneys.
All of which begs the question: How much can you get away with charging for a salad?
“It depends on what’s in it and where you’re eating it,” says guidebook CEO Tim Zagat.
C’mon, out with a number!
“$100 — if you sprinkle enough caviar on top,” he replies.
That artfully plated $55 lobster-and-black- truffle salad at the Four Seasons — with a sculptured village of seasonal vegetables — is certainly selling well. When it was a special last week, the titans of industry who gather in the Grill Room gobbled up 30 of them in a single day.
But the popularity of double-digit salads isn’t just about the ingredients, it’s the swank surroundings.
Unlike Michael’s, Café Metro doesn’t have art by David Hockney on its walls, Christofle silver on its tables and actor Michael Douglas lunching with the powerful, Gekko-esque Henry Kravis a couple of seats over. And let’s not forget the impressive size of the Michael’s salad.
[…]As it turns out, New Yorkers are fiercely loyal to their status salads.
“It’s my death-row salad,” says p.r. maven Diana Biederman of the famous Gotham Salad at Bergdorf Goodman. Currently served in the department store’s swanky seventh-floor restaurant BG, it combines diced chicken breast, ham, gruyère, tomatoes, bacon, beets, hard-boiled egg, lettuce and Thousand Island dressing.
Price tag: $25.
Admittedly, it was cheaper back in the ’80s, when Biederman first got hooked. At the time, she was making $6.25 an hour as a salesgirl at Laura Ashley, scrimping and saving just to indulge every few months.
“Since they’ve gone fancy, it’s a little overpriced,” she concedes.
Still, die-hard dieters maintain their salads amount to much more than mere washing and assembling.
“All that meticulous chopping — it would take me an insane amount of time to make,” says Biederman.
‘21’ executive chef John Greeley, who serves a $31 Cobb salad complete with quail eggs and artisanal bacon, agrees. “Each vegetable is cut in a certain way to enhance texture and flavor,” he says. (Note to the hoi polloi: The Cobb will appear as an appetizer on the Summer Restaurant Week menu — three lunch courses for $24.07!)
According to defenders of double-digit salads, the brawny entree-size bowls offer a fairly priced fine-dining meal — especially since they’re so sizable, they’re frequently eaten without an appetizer.
And then there is the simple matter of setting. After all, the pricey greens are often just a civilized pretext for wheeling and dealing.
“If I’m having a business lunch, obviously I’m not taking them to Dishes,” says ‘21’ regular Alexandra Lebenthal, referring to the East 45th Street assembly-line salad spot she occasionally frequents.
The CEO of financial firm Lebenthal & Co. and author of the forthcoming novel “Recessionistas,” Lebenthal is something of a salad connoisseur. In addition to regularly nibbling on the Cobb at ‘21’ (hold the blue cheese), she’s also a fan of the $25 chopped chicken salad — a mix of shredded chicken, avocado, onion, tomato, pears and bibb lettuce tossed in a Dijon mustard-balsamic vinaigrette — at fashionista-friendly Madison Avenue eatery Fred’s.
“At the end of the day, is there anything as satisfying as a salad — except maybe chocolate cake?” she muses.
Still, she’s a bit surprised when told the ‘21’ Cobb salad costs $31.
“I actually never looked at the price,” she laughs.
So, what’s the most she’d pay for a salad?
And what will she do if ‘21’ raises the price?
“Hopefully they’ll grandfather me in,” she says. “I’m a longtime customer.”
I didn’t want to paste those parts out of context, but I think it’s important to see the highlighted passages.
To me, there are a couple of interesting aspects to this article. For starters, I’ll tell y’all the same way I responded when I first saw this article: “If all of the ingredients are organic, if the blue cheese is homemade, if nothing comes from a bottle and if that chicken is organic and free range… if everything is chopped and pitted correctly and I’m not bothered by seeds or other vegetable innards? You’re darn straight I’d pay that much for it. No bacon though. #TeamAntiBacon”
I place a high value on the food I bring into my body and share with my daughter. Some people value their shoe collections (believe me, I am one of those people), some people place a high value on their clothing and for others, it’s their jewelry. I.. I value food.
I appreciate the experience. I make a big deal out of eating. I like pomp and circumstance. I like simplicity. I like dishes and dining experiences that find an appropriate balance between the two. As someone who worked both in a franchise restaurant (think Applebees, Fridays, Chili’s type places) and a small fine dining restaurant, I’ve learned a lot about the difference between dining and feeding. One includes an experience worth every dollar, and one includes an experience where you get what you pay for.
Having said that, there’s also an interesting – and disturbing – bit that needs to be highlighted, here. All the food history that I know… has consisted of this interesting volleying between the rich and the poor. Not the “upper class” and the “middle class.” The rich. And. The poor. There is no middle ground between those who can, and those who cannot. Once upon a time before food manufacturing wasso big, the rich were “the fat ones,” gorging on every fruit and vegetable they could get their paws on. Devouring every ounce of beef and pork they could. This is why the women were accepted for being curvier – it was a sign of being moneyed.
The poor were skimping – portion controlling, saving, penny pinching. Mixing different ingredients so that they could make a lot out of very little. It made tons of sense. It still does.
When food manufacturing became the thing, and people were rushing out to eat this… food… American waistlines started to grow. Everyone scrambled left to right to figure out what the cure for this problem was – more likely, so that food manufacturers could chemically engineer the “problem” out of the food, allowing you to buy as much of it as you want – but the rich.. they pretty much already knew. They went back to minimalistic dining principles. Clean eating.
Compare the menu of your favorite restaurant (provided it isn’t a fine dining one) to the menu of a fine dining restaurant. Compare the portions. Compare the make-up of the dishes. A $36 salad.. that’s enough to buy two racks of ribs, three handfuls of fries and a shot of tequila at the franchise restaurant I have in mind. You might even be hard-pressed to find something like ribs at a full fledged fine dining restaurant.
My point, really, is this – while we’re so busy trying to “live it up” and “live through food,” the upper class are taking the simple route and making the eating more about the experience. While franchise joints are rushing to offer up huge steak and shrimp dinners, fine dining restaurants are focusing more on the experience of dining – not the need to feed – and raising the price on it.
Sounds like all the more reason to create my own dining experience – taking the simplistic route with my dishes and save by cooking from scratch – how about you?