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S5 E2 – How much is too much to pay for food?

Last Christmas, Team Sorted celebrated at a restaurant offering various small tasting plates. The food was incredible and finely crafted, but every person left feeling slightly hungry and pretty astounded at the final bill. That’s what inspired this podcast topic. Where is the line on overpriced foods? When is it worth it?

Best soundbite: “It was a meal I can only describe as delicious, delicious starters.” – Jamie Spafford

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  1. tjmarskbb

    For me, its all about the experience.
    For someone like my dad, he thinks its a waste to spend money on an expensive restaurant. His moto growing up was always: We can always make it better for less at home.
    My mom however, loved trying restaurants, seeing plays, and such. We didn’t have the money when my sister and I were little, but when we started working my sister and I bought tickets for the three of us to go to an opera for mothers day and my mom made reservations at high end restaurant. It wasn’t really about the food, it was about my sister and I giving something to my mom that we knew she wanted but couldn’t afford so we could show her how much we loved and appreciated everything she did for us. It was also about having that experience together before my sister and I went our separate ways into adulthood and having a memory to look back on.
    The only times I ever remember getting my dad in a jacket and slacks for dinner, were celebratory when my sister and I came home from Army basic training, and my mom graduating College at 46. It’s not something we could’ve done regularly, but I think in celebratory circumstances it’s worth spending more money and being a little more extravagant, and enjoying making the memory while experiencing amazing food.

  2. riya

    You always providing a good knowledge about food industry ,Really you have great knowledge about this market ,this article is very informative for me!


  3. GrandFantasy18

    Can you be more specific, are we talking about individual prices as only 1 person OR are we talking about groups of people for example, 2 – 6 people?

    If that’s the case, then of course the prices will increase dramatically and don’t forget that the highest proportion of the bill would be any alcohol that people would like to drink.

    As a personal example, I had dinner with my wife and the highest amount I’ve spent was £105.00. We went to Café Rouge and we had the following: 2 Stella Artois Cidré + Pink Lemonades, 2 French Onion Soups, 2 10oz Rib-eye Steaks cooked Medium w/ French Fries and peppercorn sauce and for dessert we ordered 1 Chocolate fondant and a Tarte Tatin.

    However, I know I had a birthday party treat were as a family (6 people) we went to Hawksmoor Seven Dials and the bill came up to approx £500.

    So it really depends on where you go and how many people you have with you.

  4. ThomasEdwards

    It has happened to me before I went out to a new restaurant for my birthday and we were all hungry after and paid more than we usually would for food and personally I don’t have a large stomach so if even I was still hungry it is an issue we went to Mcdonalds after just to full us up.

  5. Margusenock

    A bit late but never mind. I agree with Ben. I don’t value cloths as much as I value experience and food. I put cloths on to be warm and protected. I eat food and experience new stuff to cherish my soul and build new memories.

    I don’t know if I am lucky or vice versa but my parents could not spend time with me when I was a kid due to their work. So when I saw them – we were eating out. As a result my childhood warm memories come from fine dining or eating out (which is quite sad now when I think about it). One thing that I value the most now is the company. If the company has no chimestry or is wrong then the the best meal/place will loose its charm and will never be the same again.

    On a sad note….We were in Finland with my family and one couple in a national park on an island in summer. I though that the place was magnificent. In order to get to the restaurant you have to walk 800 meters or so through an artificial village. The village is a mini installation of old times when electricity did not exist. There are many small houses with animals and people wear in national cloths. It is super interesting. The restaurant is located in the middle of that mini theater, it is a beautiful wooden building with traditional Finnish food. Because this restaurant is all about history, they do not serve any modern stuff. And one of the guests was very upset because of that and because of the fact that she had to walk. Stupidly. As a protest this guest refused to eat at all because it was not good enough. Everybody ate but her. Food was amazing. Weather was perfect. Experience before the meal was fantastic and fun. But the feeling after was really really bad. 8 years passed. I still did not put myself together to try this place again.. Which is stupid. But that negative company built a link between my feelings and the place.

    So remembering that I think that I would pay 150-300 per person if and when the company is right. Experience is everything. Your memories will warm you up one cold evening. Family, positive emotions, new experience, food… To me that’s what life is about. Plus dogs 🙂

  6. LTJD

    I would pay more money going out than for cooking at home to a certain point, for the reasons mentioned in the podcast I’m not just paying for the food I am paying for the experience and as an added bonus I do not need to do the washing up, which for me is worth a lot! 🙂 However, I could never afford or want to go to the top of the line so to speak and pay hundreds and hundreds of quid for a meal. Also, money is always an issue: how much I spend on food varies massively, depending on if I am working or unemployed. For most people, it is always going to be that balancing act.

    Although I have to admit I do not go out a lot due to the fact that I have a ton of food allergies and it is always tricky to find something I can eat and to actually find restaurants with staff that takes the time to listen. In some places, all I have to do is utter the word food allergies and the waiter or waitress just sigh. Anyway, one thing that annoys me immensely is when I do go out and need to remove 90 percent of a dish to be able to eat something and still being charged full price. I remember going to a Greek restaurant a while back and ordering a dish with shrimp skewers, chips, salad, sauces, etc. and after they had adapted it, I ended up getting a couple of shrimp skewers on some lettuce and still had to pay as if I had had the whole dish. Ok if I had to remove one thing but, in this case, I had to remove pretty much the entire dish and they had no other options. I guess that goes back to the whole discussion if non-alcoholic gin is worth as much as the alcoholic version.

    When faced with this situation that happens a lot it always makes me think about what I actually value when going out, is it the food, the experience, or the company. The conclusion I have come to is that it is a combination of it all. I am willing to pay more to get a good experience and good food because than I feel it is worth it as oppose to having great company but rubbish food and thus not a good experience.

  7. SuneC

    Hey guys, great podcast 🙂 Agree with the expectation thoughts on amount you spend when going out and what you get/might get for it and also expectation you have when cooking at home with (better) ingridients. About 4 years ago I started at a specialised food imports company and the largest part of our business is importing and private labelling of high end pastas (durum wheat etc.), cold meats (parma ham, chorizo etc.), cheeses (parmigiano reggiano, boerenkaas, burrata etc.) for one of the high(er) end retail chains. And I can honestly say that I gladly pay a bit more for these sourced foods as the quality, taste and experience is just better than what I’ve had before. With paying a bit more you also think twice before leaving something to waste or getting fast food on the way home and it also gets me more involved with cooking which I’ve been trying to get qround too.
    Also really enjoyed Ben’s memory he shared of the glass of wine 🙂 Growing up in a wine producing region, it always makes me happy to hear other’s wine related experiences and also reminds me of a doccie one of my friends showed me about the journey people take to become a Master Sommelier and that was just mind blowing!
    Thanks guys, loving the conversations and relevant topics!

    • LTJD

      I agree, when you spend more on grocery you tend to use it up instead of grabbing something else and letting it go to waste.

  8. theanita1

    The quality vs quantity discussion definitely comes into play when you go grocery shopping, and I’m willing to pay more for ingredients of better quality, that are locally produced and are more “natural” rather than processed. But eventually the quality plateaus out and it becomes pure snobbery.

    Perfect example of this is butter – you can buy the lower quality home brand, spend a little bit more and get the nicer stuff, or you go too far and get something pretentious.

    When I’m baking en mass or a sheet cake or for someone not that special to me, then I’ll buy the cheap one. When I’m baking for friends/family, then I buy the better butter because it makes a better cake. I’m not sure if I know of an example of when I would buy the pretentious stuff, but you get the point of the example.

    • Sorted

      Yeah completely get you! I guess so much is just based on the circumstances around it!

  9. Lynzilla

    Fascinating discussion, guys! Anyone who has run any sort of business can understand how difficult it is to convey value for services. In this case, when you grab a kebab at a food truck, your tastebuds may rejoice that it is the best, most yummy kebab you have ever had- However, if you receive, say a ‘deconstructed’ kebab at a fine dining establishment using similar ingredients (hopefully it still tastes amazing!) you are also paying for all the other things involved in that presentation: Building rent, waitstaff and uniforms, flatware, crockery, linens, furniture, kitchen staff, dishwashers, electricity and so many other things that combine to create an ‘experience’. A street vendor has none of those overheads and only concentrates on the food, frequently a single dish that can be perfected over time, without much variation. A dining experience must continually evolve to remain exciting and relevant. Just as Ben says, you will often pay a premium at specific times of the year (looking at YOU Valentines day!) There is a fine balance between value and pretension, especially in this age of “Is it Instagrammable” social media.

    • Sorted

      That’s actually a very very fair point! We often don’t consider how much goes in to a meal at a fancy restaurant and it’s easy to get annoyed at the cost in comparison to an equally delicious dish at a street vendor but you’re completely right. There are so many other costs that come with running a restaurant and of course the price of what you’re eating would have to reflect that. We’re thinking to perhaps do another podcast on the quality of ingredients as that seems to be something we’ve touched upon a couple times but not gone in depth into yet!

  10. Smidge

    This was a great topic given the current financial environment for the millennial generation. We’re the most informed, connected generation EVER, with the widest array of cultural knowledge and awareness available to us, and we have some of the worst economic disparities of any generation before us.

    We’re earnestly analyzing the worth of everything in our lives with much more scrutiny because we have to, and the landscape of anything considered a luxury is shifting at lightning speed. We don’t take “Oh, this is a sign of status and wealth, to be eating this” as the stock truth any more and it’s both refreshing to see that we’re wanting to look more deeply into the entire exchange, and a bit sad that such wariness has had to come about the way it has.

    And even if it is a sign of status and wealth… how much does that even matter anymore?

    • Sorted

      Do you think that with the cultural knowledge and awareness available to us we have higher expectations of the food put in front of us in that case?

  11. Foolofatook919

    I have to agree with Ben on this one. Like art, food is more than just the finished product. The creativity, time, effort, ect. that goes into a dish is worth paying for if you appreciate those efforts. However, like art, food is subjective to each consumer and therefore likely to be “worth the price” to some and not to others. I have never spent more than 60 dollars (yes, American dollars) on a single meal but that’s mostly due to my income, stage of life, and frugal nature. However, that was the best meal I have ever had and I would have been willing to pay more should I have needed to as I appreciated the artistry that went into each course. At the same time, I do not believe that price necessary correlates with good food. As Ben pointed out, there are amazing dishes to be found that utilize the simplest and cheaper end of ingredients and therefore are more affordable, but nonetheless fantastic. Also, there are high price dishes that rely simply on the fact that the ingredients are rare or expensive and do not deliver on creativity and taste. At the end of the day, I think the differences in our individual tastes, personalities, and circumstances (i.e. salary, living arrangements, priorities, locality) really define what food is “worth” and “not worth” the prices, and that’s what makes this world interesting and diverse and also what allows so many creative and talented chefs the opportunity to keep creating and pursuing their passions.

    • Sorted

      Definitely agree on it being subjective, we didn’t really touch on it much but at the end of the day everyone always likes and dislikes different things. A multiple course menu of only tomato based dishes like the guys recently did in America could be one persons dream but a total nightmare for someone else! And yes, like you and Mike say, so much of it comes down to money and everyone is going to have a completely different take but you’re right that it’s so exciting to see what chefs have the freedom to create outside the parameters of costing. What’s the most creative dish you’ve tried?

      • Foolofatook919

        Hmm, that’s very difficult to answer because I’ve had a lot of very creative and unique dishes over time. One of my favorites was a “cheese plate cheesecake” I tried at an amazing North Carolina “farm to table” restaurant called Chef and the Farmer. It was definitely the most unique dessert I’ve ever had and perfectly balance the sweet and savory combination. Most desserts are just very sweet, which isn’t always bad, but this dessert initially came across as quite savory until some of the lighter, sweeter notes started hitting you and providing that satisfying dessert feeling. I love when a chef is able to create something not just unique or never before done, but so well thought through and well balanced.

  12. mary.luzitano

    Jamie! There are places that you get a menu with no pricing! My husband recently became a member a one of the more affordable clubs in Boston, MA as he works in Boston. Anyway, if you’re a guest, you’re given a menu without pricing!!! 😮 it’s amazing!! If you guys are ever in Boston, let me know. We can make the priceless menu happen!

    That being said, my husband and I are far from rich. So when we do want to go out for a special occasion and spend a little more on food, we go somewhere we’ve been many times so we know we won’t be wasting our money. Where we live in Tiverton, RI I always ask to go to the Boat House because I KNOW it’ll be worth it. But I will say, I prefer to be wowed by a meal that I haven’t spent much on than eating somewhere expensive.

    • Sorted

      That’s so cool! Completely get what you’re saying though, it’s so satisfying being wowed by a meal and feeling smug about how little you spent on it.

  13. posion_me_daddy

    Two questions; 1. Was the food good? 2. Did you afford it? If the answer is yes on both of them. It´s worth it!

  14. Anya Lampesberger

    I like to spend good money on food from time to time on a special occasion, however, the best food and experience I’ve ever had cost me 8€. (That’s like 6 £, right?)
    The group of people I was with and I had just arrived in Lisbon, and despite it being breathtaking and beautifully warm (24°C at the end of November), we were all grumpy and tired from the travels and just wanted some kind of food. It was only about 6 or 7pm and nothing was open yet for dinner, and we really didn’t want to get a McDonald’s (not that we could have found one anyways). So, after wandering around for at least an hour, we found this tiny restaurant that seemed open and walked in. Needless to say we were the only customers in there, and it was probably better for it, the place could barely accommodate the eight of us. The menu was limited to say the least, there was a veggie option and a non-veggie option. We were ready to be underwhelmed or ripped off, but then the food came out. The non veggie option turned out to be a massive salmon steak accompanied by a single potato. The whole thing was garnished with olive oil and sea salt, and, for some reason, a packet of ketchup. It was the best food I’ve had to this day. To the point where I’m still dreaming about it at least once a month. The salmon was melt in the mouth and just right and even the lonely potato seemed to be the only right choice to be served with it. The bill came out and we were prepared to pay at least 15-20€ each. Eight quid. We were stunned. It was the best experience in food I’ve ever had. It was probably a combination of circumstances and the food would most likely not stand out so much to me if I had it today, but this shoes for me what an impact even the simplest food can have on our lives.

    • Sorted

      Wow what an experience! It’s always when you least expect it that experiences like this happen, right?

  15. Dimi

    *Has to open a currency converter to write this comment*
    Story time with Dimi:
    About 4 years ago Heston Blumenthal closed down the Fat Duck in the UK for renovations and bought his whole team to Melbourne for a short residency. The only way to get in was via an online lottery. I had seen some of his stuff on TV and was curious but it would be soo expensive and I was not really prepared to go. My brother however, along with my sisters partner at the time were OBSESSED with Heston and really wanted to go, and being that we are a bit of a foodie family, they talked my partner and I into putting our names into the lottery with them so we could all possibly go together.
    Of everyone in the group I was the only one offered a table and the caveat to entering the lottery was if you were drawn you HAD to be one of the people at your reservation. Because my family was SOOOO excited to go and technically at the time I could afford it, my partner and I decided to skimp on other things for a while and go. (as Ben said attributing value to it as a whole experience rather than just “food” we skimped on a few things: going to the theatre, movies, clothes shopping, all to save for this one night)
    I now list it as the best restaurant I’ve ever been to, it was absolutely mind blowing. It was nearly 20 courses, most of them just single mouthfuls. But it was also, 100% about the entire experience not just the food. The room was impeccably decorated, the service was pure theatre, there was more to the whole experience than just eating. And also, there was the people I was sitting there with, and sharing this once in a lifetime experience with. After we ordered a couple of bottles of wine as well, the bill came to *does currency conversion* about £1800 (or about £300 a person) It was kind of terrifying, and at the time I had a bit of immediate buyers remorse about how much it cost.
    But in hindsight, since then, my brother passed away after a long and difficult battle with cancer, and that night is one I look back on with great fondness and joy because it was so unique for us, and we had such a good time and enjoyed every aspect, including the food. And knowing how much it meant to my brother to get to eat there, and all of us to eat there together. Could we have had a great night out with great food and payed a lot less? Yes we could have and did many times, but I think for me, the uniqueness of the experience, and seeing it as an “experience” not just a “dinner” made it worth every dollar (pound).

    • Dimi

      TL;DR: The most I’ve payed for a dinner out was £300 for a 20 course degustation and I think it was worth it because I could afford it at the time and it was an amazing night and the experience was just as important as the food.

    • Bebbrell

      This is a beautiful story, thanks for sharing! You hit the nail of the head. The food is the backbone… But it’s not the point. The experience and memories are!

    • Bebbrell

      This is a beautiful story, thanks for sharing! You hit the nail of the head. The food is the backbone… But it’s not the point. The experience and memories are!

  16. jkwong

    We are lucky to have the choice to choose how much we can spend on food whether for home cooking or dining out. I think costs of eating out always comes down to the environment / ambiance and location and who you are with. If its just a meal out it’s different amount I would spend in a celebration dinner.
    In a separate note, loved the conversation Mike did regarding MSG. It got me thinking about the misconceptions and lack of information people have on GMO foods and lab grown meat. It’s suppose to help out with food production and claim things like lab grown meat / cultured meat is cruelty free. If one is vegan because of ethical issues, this would be a possible solutions. I would love to hear a slightly more informed discussion on this.

    • Bebbrell

      GMO is definitely something that isn’t really understood. I hold up my hand. Not sure I really do. Will make for an interesting chat.

      • Dimi

        I also suggested GMO as a topic on Twitter! I quite liked the “sciencey”, but “not too sciencey for a normal person to understand” aspect of the MSG debate. And I think a GMO discussion in a similar way would be great.

  17. Dbroadd1

    I eel like I am willing to spend more money on a meal when going out it for a special occasion versus just it’s Saturday and I need dinner. But when I buy food to cook at home I try to always go with top quality product, whether or not anyone else is going to eat it. Also, I spit out my water at the end with Jamie ‘s comment!

    • Sorted

      I feel like we could have a whole episode based on the quality of produce and whether or not it makes a difference in cooking!

  18. suebarnes

    a bit ago, on a rare visit to the capital, we booked a table at one of a well know TV chef’s restaurants. It was not cheap. It WAS awful. If that was an example of top grade cuisine then I will have a sausage inna bun, at a cut me own throat price any day

    • Marie Watkins

      HaHa love the Discworld reference but sadly far too many tv chefs like footballers put money before integrity and their names to brands that might not be up to the standard they claim it to be.I am so glad that Ben and James are not like that and hope that no matter how famous they become they are never like that.

    • VixReviews

      Jamie’s Italian up north is pretty good for a chefs restaurant. I’m not entirely sure if Jamie Oliver has ever actually set foot in the place (I tend to order delivery from there these days as I don’t get out much) but not all chefs restaurants are a complete ripoff. It’s not as good as bar Italia still though.

  19. Esther

    Great topic! I understand the appreciation behind more expensive foods but I have a pretty simple and specific palette so it’ll likely be wasted on me. I’ve had far better dining experiences eating moderately priced meals than I have at high end Michelin star restaurants. Heck, I’ve had similar dishes at both places before and I honestly can’t say that one is better than the other.

    I think that for me, I’d enjoy learning the story behind each dish more. Why is it so expensive. What was the chef’s process when putting the flavours together. Where are the ingredients from. The history, etc. Afterwards, I’d be happy to snuggle in bed with a pizza.

    • Bebbrell

      Understanding the food is critic to appreciating the value. Caviar… why is it so expensive. When you understand the process, it becomes clearer. Does that make it right? Another topic all together!

  20. VixReviews

    I’ll save most of my comment for later, as I’m actually leaving the house today, but I had one relevant experience that I thought I’d quickly share.

    So a few years ago, I was lucky enough to perform Iolanthe in the Festival Theatre, so of course my entire family came up to see it. As my family is a bit spread out across the world, they decided to really splash out and go to the Tower restaurant beforehand. This place is pretty expensive, and is one of those posh places that everyone knows about, so they were expecting pretty good things. They were so dissapointed. My mum decided to get their haggis starter, and received three balls about the size of an IKEA meatballs. Nothing else, that was the entire starter and it was about a tenner. Would she have been less dissapointed if it had cost half as much? Yes, though still quite dissapointed as it was apparently also rather dry, but with the cost on top of that she was talking about how bad that place was for literally years.

    As a side note, on your 24 hours in Edinburgh, don’t go to the tower, it’s rubbish.

    • Lexcelsior

      Yeah, I don’t mind paying a lot, if the meal is exceptional. Twice a year, there are “Winterlicious” & “Summerlicious” events in my city (Toronto), where you can treat yourself to a prix fix (?) menu at a fancier restaurant that you might not otherwise go to. Sometimes it’s a great experience and sometimes it’s a huge disappointment. On the flipside, how awesome is it to find amazing food for a bargain! 😛

      • Esther

        Hello my fellow Canadian! We have something similar in Vancouver too. Unfortunately, I’ve had far more bad/mediocre experiences than good ones but I do like the concept in itself.

    • Bebbrell

      Haha – the Tower… noted! Although perhaps just a bad day? It’s a struggle because as a paying guest all you can ever judge it on is your own one off experience. If they fail to meet your expectations then it’s going to feel like too much money. If the food really wasn’t good… then not sure any money is worth it.

      • VixReviews

        I was backstage already so didn’t get to go, so I don’t know if it was super busy or anything. It doesn’t have a particularly good reputation though, other than as expensive. The witchery is apparently similar, food is just OK and costs a fortune.

        As a side note, I’ve already left, like, four twitter comments worth of place suggestions for your 24 hours in Edinburgh but I have so many more recommendations still if you’re still short of places to go. Also, if you’re up here on April 30th, come along to Beltane fire festival. If you’d like a casual fire spinning show just for you guys on another day, feel free to give me a shout too!

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