It’s a tough time to be a restaurant owner in New York City. The late-summer months are notoriously slow as residents flee from high humidity and head for more comfortable climates. Meanwhile, food and labor costs are rising, and landlords are demanding higher rents than ever. As a result, restaurateurs are faced to adapt to the times and attempt to maintain or increase profits in innovative manners.
We’re not blaming these business owners for instituting some of these newer policies we’ve noticed dining around the city. After all, the large majority of restaurants fail within the first year of opening — and that’s not even taking into account their location in arguably the country’s most expensive and fast-paced market. And that’s why we are hesitant to use the word “disturbing” when talking about these trends. Then again, as consumers, we do suffer from sticker-shock upon glancing at a new hotspot’s menu, and scoff at the idea of paying for items we had come to associate as included in part of the whole restaurant experience. With all that said, here are some of the observations we’ve made when dining out recently.
1. Extravagant restaurants not posting menu prices on their websites
Dear The Pool — I would absolutely love to come in for dinner in the near future. I’ve heard the space is elegantly breathtaking, and the Lobster Floridian dish, served with coconut & orange vinaigrette, sounds delectable. I’m just terrified to ask about its cost.
2. Restaurants charging for regularly included items
Would I like house-made bread before ordering appetizers? Sure! Do I expect it to cost $6? No! How about a bowl of white rice alongside my Thai curry? Definitely! Is there any chance I would have agreed to it, knowing it would cost me an extra $3.50? None!
3. Restaurant Week menus offering fewer trademark dishes (or solely off-menu items) than years past
Restaurant Week is supposed to be a prime time to allow diners enjoy an evening at a special-occasion restaurant they might not otherwise be able to afford. But is dinner at [insert fine-dining restaurant here] even a fraction of the genuine experience if the options consist of, say, a mixed-green salad and chicken-under-a-brick? And isn’t the whole point of the promotion to provide diners with a set-cost menu, and not one full of dishes tagged with supplemental costs?
4. A small service charge tacked on to take-out orders
“To tip or not to tip on takeout orders?” has been a hotly debated question in the restaurant world for some time. A handful of NYC restaurants have recently taken the choice out of diners’ hands completely by including a small percentage charge for service on these orders. We just missed the part where we were “served” in the whole process (you might see where we stand on this debate).
5. An increase in the number of restaurants requiring credit card numbers in advance to make reservations
Talk to restaurant owners and they’ll almost all tell you that no-shows are one of the primary problems in the industry. Asking for a credit card number to confirm reservations, coupled with stricter cancellation policies, is helping combat the issue. But is it fair to diners who had planned to fulfill their obligations yet came across a late emergency?
6. Two-tops are packed in tighter than ever
ARE YOU SURE YOU HEARD WHAT I SAID BECAUSE I CAN’T REALLY HEAR YOU?! I’M ALSO PRETTY SURE THE TABLE NEXT TO US CAN REPEAT BACK OUR ENTIRE CONVERSATION.
7. Restaurant bars being used more frequently as seats for full meals
Bars are an incredible asset to restaurants. It’s no secret that alcohol sales are essential to the bottom line. More and more establishments will ask if patrons would like to grab a drink while they wait for their table to be prepared, and/or refuse to seat them at a table until their complete party is present. Meanwhile, these restaurants also frequently offer their full menu at the bar, allowing them the opportunity to reap a full meal’s profit from single, walk-in diners and smaller groups.
8. Glasses of wine routinely running in the mid-to-high $20s
Glasses of wine have always been the most up-charged items on restaurant menus. Forgive us, however, if we make the claim that some places are just downright out-of-control. $27 (plus tax and tip) for a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon that comes from a bottle that retails for $32 down the street? No thanks, I’ll just have water.
9. More upscale restaurants offering burgers as a cornerstone item
We’ve taken a lengthy look at the basic economics behind this one. You’re just as likely to see a diner noshing on a special-blend burger at high-end restaurant Gramercy Tavern as you are to witness someone ordering a full tasting menu, complete with wine pairings. Burgers have always been crowd-pleasers and a lot of restaurants are claiming that their inclusion helps combat food waste — we’re down with that. But if I’m paying $28 for a burger, I would expect it to at least come with fries.
10. Restaurant staff expediting table turnover by any means possible
Just like several of the scenarios above, there is always a happy medium. Most walk-in diners would agree to sit down at a table, knowing that they have an allotted amount of time to eat a meal. Some diners who linger at the table hours after their reservation might also be sympathetic to managers who offer them a round of drinks at the bar to allow another party to be seated. But how about waiters dropping not-so-subtle hints such as, well, dropping an unrequested check mid-dessert? Now that’s just plain cold.