A recent thread on the SF Board has me thinking: why do so many folks have a strong association between a type of cuisine and how much it should cost?
Case in point: theres a new sit down BBQ restaurant opening up in Berkeley. Being Berkeley, theyre using organic produce, hormone free meats, etc. Consequently, the prices are higher than what youd find at a BBQ dive in Oakland. Before the restaurant has even opened, many people on the board have dismissed it as preposterous, a rip off, for folks who dont know any better, etc. Without even tasting the BBQ, people have decided this BBQ is inauthentic entirely because it is more expensive than an Oakland dive.
A restaurants overhead consists of ingredients, rent and staff. If a place uses more expensive ingredients, has a nice, roomy atmosphere and hires a professional staff, their overhead will naturally increase and their prices will go up. But increasing overhead doesnt necessarily detract from quality, if anything higher quality ingredients will improve the quality of the Chow. And an increase in price doesnt necessarily detract from value. Value is a function of the overhead cost to retail price ratio, a reflection of mark up not of price. So why cant BBQ be upscale and still be good? Why cant a BBQ restaurant use premium meat, dairy and produce along with the Ferrari of smokers without sacrificing authenticity?
We expect certain cuisines to be cheap: Mexican, Chinese, Korean, BBQ. In order to experience the authentic cuisine you must go slumming in dives with seedy atmospheres and rude servers. OTOH, we expect certain cuisines to be expensive. Nobody is going to bother searching looking for cheap Foie Gras or (gag) bargain Sushi. Why do the French, Italians and Japanese receive this respect that we dont grant to other cuisines? Is this attitude disparaging towards cheap cuisine?
Then you have pizza. Some people are appalled folks are willing to pay $16 for a pizza, others (including myself) will line up to have a wood fire oven pie with house cured anchovies, house cured olives and black truffles. The popular belief that pizza is cheap food is being replaced by the idea that upscale pizza is worth high prices. Indian food is in a similar transitional state; you have bargain Chaat Houses and upscale, prix fix restaurants. Could BBQ be far behind?
Of course, bad restaurants are always a rip off. Im not talking about places like Chevys, pseudo upscale chains that use crappy ingredients and charge you a premium price. Im only talking about good chow.