A Four-Times Markup? People have Sour Grapes Over Sour Cream

Written By Scott Joseph On May 1, 2017


A long time ago, in the days when going out to eat at a restaurant was for me a special thing, I invited a friend to go out to dinner. She was the director of the food service division at the hospital I worked at after grad school.

And she said no, she wouldn’t join me for dinner. When I asked why not, she said simply, “I know what that food costs, and I won’t pay what the restaurants charge for it.”

There’s no surprise that restaurants charge more to present the ingredients assembled in a meal than it would cost you to purchase the items at, say, Publix and put them together yourself. There are other things attached to the price of your entree at the restaurant, including such things as rent, electric bill, labor costs, and maybe the fresh-cut flowers on the table that add to the atmosphere. That atmosphere is not the same as your home, which is sort of the point of going out to eat.

And in some cases, the ingredients you’ll be served at the restaurant can’t even be obtained at Publix, either because they’re a more exotic commodity or because they’re of a higher quality than the general public is interested in buying for a weeknight dinner.

But that doesn’t keep people from being outraged by the cost of restaurant food. And as this article in Money shows, some items have a much higher markup than others. The extra sour cream you order is a statistical boon for the restaurant’s bottom line.

Diners have always been trying to get around the higher prices, most commonly by bringing their own bottle of wine to the restaurant. Restaurants caught on a long time ago and added corkage fees, often at rates high enough to discourage such a practice.

I once asked Paul Bocuse what his policy was regarding someone bringing a bottle of wine to his famous restaurant outside of Lyon. He said, through a translator, “I say, ‘Sure, why don’t you bring your own chairs, too?’”

People bring tea bags from home and ask for hot water. Maybe they’ll start stashing a tub of sour cream in their satchels. But you can expect the restaurant to add something to your bill. Maybe a creamage fee?

What do you think about restaurant pricing? Leave a comment below.

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