What is considered "expensive" anymore? (NJ)

I had been meaning to ask this for a while. Last month while in NYC, I was walking down restaurant row in Little Italy stopping to browse almost every posted outdoor menu I saw. We were not eating at any of them, but I was just curious. Most of such restaurants were your typical Little Italy tourist traps with those endlessly gaudy playlists of Frank Sinatra and Lou Monte on loop. I found that the prices tended to be cheaper than restaurants in my area of New Jersey (Monmouth County). I challenge you to find me an Italian restaurant on the Shore that’s not a pizzeria that charges under $20 for something as simple as Chicken Parm, even pre-Covid. We traveled to other areas of the city, and except for a few ultra fine dining spots, the prices were still cheaper or comparable to the suburbs of NJ. Not what I was expecting.

I don’t mean to stress Little Italy as a comparison, but that’s where I was when I realized just how much prices have skyrocketed on the Jersey Shore.

It just got me thinking about what is even “expensive” anymore? If Justin and I go out, we know we are dropping around $100+ before tip (two drinks each usually, one app, two meals)-- we do not go to BYOB’s since we do not care for wine. Granted we have really scaled back on eating out since Covid, so it’s not that big of a deal.

Other thoughts: to me, paying $18- $20 for a burger and fries is outrageous but is slowly becoming standard. But then you have another place that charges $14 for a burger, $1.50 to add cheese, and $5 for a side of fries instead of potato chips. The $14 burger ends up costing $20.50. Maybe a poor example of what I’m getting at. I don’t know.

So, what’s your idea of expensive in New Jersey dining? Is the cost of living in Monmouth County just so high that we have become desensitized to pricing?

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I have no answers. Everything is expensive.

Chopped meat at the butcher was $9/lb. Natural casing hot dogs(from Pulaski) were the same. I can somewhat understand the $15 burgers at that point. And if it is a good burger, I don’t mind paying the $20.

My wife and I will sit at a local tiki bar, have a few drinks and a couple of things to eat and be north of $200 without trying too hard. Given this is sitting on the water in the summer in NJ. So you expect to pay a premium.

These days I guess I would put “expensive” at over $80/head all in. I figure that gets you a $40 dollar main, a $20 app and a cocktail. Or a $30 main and two cocktails :smiley:

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I L Nido is expensive, 618 is expensive
Bahr’s is not expensive in my opinion.

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@gcaggiano you might find this of interest.

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I see sometimes on the NJ board photos of menus and I am actually surprised how “cheap” (obviously it is relative) it is compared to many restaurant prices in the Bay Area - and we are not talking about high-end restaurants. Many upscale (but not high-end) restaurants here have now burger >$20, many entrees >$30 etc. At the same time it has also to put into perspective to salaries and when I compare SF to Boston the overall cost of living (excluding rents/house prices where SF area is unique in the US in many ways) in SF isn’t so different to Boston even though the prices are higher.

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Years ago, before the pandemic, we were able to dine out for about $100 plus tax and tip. Now a similar dinner costs around $200. We only go to BYO restaurants, so this doesn’t even include the price of wine. Years ago appetizers went for $12 to $15. Now they go for for $20 to $30 in some high end restaurants. I used to balk at paying $40 for an entree. Now $50 to $60 is the norm. It’s really gotten of hand, but these BYO restaurants have to make money somewhere. A restaurant with a liquor license can make their profits off of liquor, since some of them charge triple the retail price for a bottle of wine.

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I would agree with this statement.

And honestly, looking back on my life of eating out from the late 90’s to now, $30 is the new $20 and $20 is the new $10-15. Appetizers have been relatively tame in growth, but entrees have really shot up.

And out of curiosity, I priced out a dinner for two for Justin and I at Il Nido. I would consider them the gold standard for pricey fine dining. I don’t mean that negatively. I know the owner and family and they are wonderful people. It’s also a bit of a hike and the price point relegates a visit to a special occasion. But anyway, let’s see:

Drinks: two gin martinis for me (their cocktails range from $12-15, so let’s put my Bombay Martinis at $14 each for the heck of it). He would probably have two craft beers, $8 each. Total drink tab: $44. That’s actually not bad at all. I thought their cocktail prices would be higher.

Appetizer(s): let’s go with the small antipasto board and the Jersey Girl Burrata: total of $51.

Entrees: I’m going with the filet mignon and he has a thing for short ribs, so let’s give him the Wagyu short rib. He also loves street corn, so a side of that as well: total of $125.

Total tab before tax and 20% tip is: $210. With tax ($13.91) plus tip ($45-- using this as a 20% baseline which could very well be higher based on the service), and this night out is: $268.91. Yes, that qualifies as expensive! And there are so many outliers here as I am just going based on our usual ordering tendencies. Maybe there’s a third martini. Maybe he gets cocktails instead of beer. Maybe we get dessert (which we don’t usually, but could be tempted).

Damn, that was a lot of work. I’m hungry!

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Thank you for the link, though I did hit the paywall. And yes, the comments section is always a great place for a laugh, a cry, or to pull your hair out. As someone who works in food service, you can automatically tell who has never had to put up with various aspects of food production, prices, and customer service. I love when a customer hurls an insult about how prices have gone up, as if little old me controls the menu.

My 2 cents - I found my tolerance level the other day. I had some time to kill, so I went to The Rum Runner for a snack. The fries were several notches below mediocre (not unexpected) but what turned my head around was their $22 burger, come on, it’s a nice view but McCloone joints are not known for their fine food.

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There’s a gift link to the article further down that should solve the paywall.

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Yes interesting article, Thanks for the free link! It’s easy to see why they raised menu prices. I just saw a headline elsewhere “Greedflation?” (sic) Didn’t read it yet. I had/have suspicions though about some of the restaurants’ suppliers. Things that are commodity price driven seem to get abused. (Natural Gas I’m looking at you.) The snowball effect though of all the costs hitting every aspect of upkeep = people going out less.

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Great discussion (thanks, Greg!) and I’ll chime in to say that if I’m spending more than $50 on little 'ol me, it’s expensive - but that’s also why I don’t eat out a lot any more, and I’m certainly going out/spending differently since I moved to Monmouth Cty (coming up on 7 years ago). I’ll also say that I have NO objection to spending good money on good food.

For starters, I haven’t found nearly the volume of more expensive/upscale restaurants around here - and that was a (positive) adjustment when I first came here. That said, I was never a fan of $30+ entrees, and my thoughts about them haven’t changed. If I’m going to spend $$$$ I want to do it at an Heirloom Kitchen for a multi-course + experience, not at the local Italian spot, no matter how good it is (for the record, our dinner at Il Nido a few years ago was one of the best meals I’d have since moving down here). Maybe it’s because I can cook and I pay attention to grocery store prices; don’t know.

I fully understand the reason prices are up, but I do think Greg is on to something about NJ/Jersey Shore pricing. Last night I went to a local acceptable place (that’s my term for a place that’s FINE, but they’ve gone the Sysco route-see also: McLoone’s) because it was the most convenient, had a parking lot, Happy Hour on Tuesdays, and my friend who was visiting just wanted a drink and apps before he drive home. On arrival, the hostess was about to seat us at a table when we asked if the whole restaurant had the HH menu. “Oh no - you have to sit at the bar for that.” Fine - over to the bar we went. The menu offered 6 (?) items from their regular menu for $5 each and most were mini versions of regular menu items. We had one cocktail, two sodas, two shrimp tacos (2 shrimp in each), chicken fingers, brussels sprouts (w far too much balsamic drizzle), and a small serving of nachos. $47 before tip. That to me was a bargain down here. Was the food GOOD? Meh. Did we have to fight a little to get the HH items? Yes. And they were acceptable and it was what we were looking for. But I long for the days of going to Blu in Montclair where a 4-5 star creative dinner was spectacular for around the same cost. Or a dinner w a big group at Chengdu 1 where we ordered 10 different dishes and no matter how expensive some of them were, with a huge tip, was $30pp or less. I can’t do that at Aarzu, Grand Tavern, Drew’s, Il Nido, Heirloom, or many other places within a 15-mile radius of the Shore - so for me, those remain special occasion spots.

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All your math Greg for you and your husband is spot on.

Now imagine the cost for a family of six. Yes, the alcohol is not multiplied (figure only parents have drinks). But even so, it pushes $450. OUCH.

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Deal Lake Bar & Company?

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Even if this was still a BYOB, we’d be above $200. But then you factor in the purchase of two really nice bottles of wine (I think walking in with a Sutter Home chardonnay would cause heart attacks on the floor of the restaurant) and we’re probably higher than my current estimate.

I actually really appreciate the affordability of their drinks, though I’m not sure who would order a $5 Bud Light with their $75 ribeye!

I remember pre-Covid getting invited by McCloone’s Iron Whale in Asbury after it just opened to do a review on my blog. They offered me a $100 gift card to come in. I saw an $18 martini and some of their steak/seafood prices and figured I’d have to spend $150 of my own money to use the gift card. By the time I finally was going to take them up on it, everything was shut down.

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That one got a genuine laugh out loud.


And this would have been you just by yourself? Yowza.

I just looked them up and reviews are generally okay but not great (about 4-star on Google), and mixed.

One really caught my eye - a couple each had a whiskey and the store charged them an extra $2 each to serve neat? With your experience, do you know of a reason to add a surcharge for not putting ice in whiskey?

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If you go to a touristy place like the shore, you ought not be surprised that prices are high. That said, restaurants’ costs are up because of on-going supply chain disruptions and higher fuel costs. And labor costs are up, which is a good thing–restaurant workers are notoriously underpaid. But there is also some price gouging going on. Owners have increased their profit margins in part to recoup their losses during COVID and in part because they can. Here in the Binghamton area, prices are up–$14 burgers are the general rule–but restaurants are packed. Clearly people are willing to pay higher prices.

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Anyone remember Sutter Homes Sauvignon Blanc? That was the gateway wine for the novice working up to the Big Buttery Oaky Chards. In the Bay Area Californiia, at least.

That was a few decades back.

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The offer was for a guest and I. I just looked at their menu for the first time in two years and the prices have actually gone down (for lack of a better term). Back then it was a very limited menu and I swear steaks were north of $50. Now it appears they’ve just totally McLoone’d it: giant menu courtesy of Sysco (as @CurlzNJ would say) while the “gourmet” and “upscale” approach is no longer.

As for a whiskey neat surcharge, no, never in my life have I seen that. Usually it is an upcharge for rocks not to leave them out. And even that I never understood. A 2 oz pour is a 2 oz regardless of ice. It’s incredibly tacky.

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I’m seeing that a variety of ways here at the shore as well. To wit: at a few bars in town if I order a club soda depending on the bartender it could be $3 or just a wave of the hand (and yes, I tip either way). At others, there’s a real push to keep a tab open - at places where that wasn’t the case pre-pandemic. That + some of the concert venues packing in numbers that I’m sure exceed fire code - just because they’re making up for lost time.

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