My last blog post about customers' online reviews of the restaurant only talked about sushi and hamburgers! But it's more important to talk about price. Almost 50% of the reviews on Yelp suggest that our prices are quite high or expensive. Is this fair? Maybe, maybe not. Let's look at Lemon Grass as a fine dining restaurant. This is an average nice meal:
Appetizer or Salad $8 - $11
Entree $18 - $23
Beverage: Nice glass of wine $7 - $9 or a cocktail with top-shelf liquor $8 - $12
Dessert $8 - $12
A customer enjoying a full meal with two courses with a drink and half of a dessert (shared with someone). That's about $10(app) + $20(entree) + $7(drink) + $5 (1/2 dessert) = $42. Let's say $40 - $45 per person on average. Then with 8% NYS sales tax and 20% gratuity for expected good service, that becomes $50 - $57 per person. This is reasonably what fine dining, white table cloth and all, in Syracuse costs.
Let's go a little deeper. At the Grass, our chicken curry starts at $18.50 and Pad Thai chicken is $15.50. These items would probably be 2-5 dollars less at other places -- like popular places for sit-down student dining all the way through Thai, Laotian-Thai, or even Chinese-Thai restaurants. Maybe that's why customers can be surprised by our prices.
But you have to consider a number of other things: location, investment in the building and decor, level of skill in cooking and service, and how the operation pays. All personnel in our organization have good wages or salaries, and proper state, federal, and other taxes are paid. Plus we try to keep our employees for years, and many now have worked here for years. Our employees are diverse. This is how the restaurant industry should be. Too often it is not.
This is the way I think about it. In older times, most immigrants came over to this land of opportunity willing to trade their labor for any valuable US money. Also, often the food could be very inexpensive because labor was free, provided by "mom and pop" immigrant restaurants. Quantities could be great too because inexpensive materials were used, and it still seemed good because they gave flavor and taste with foreign herbs and spices you'd never tried before.
I remember the days I used to go to a restaurant called "Yu Jin No. 1" in Binghampton, NY. I brought my family there once a week and we ate good Chinese food. The store had about 10 chairs, just a husband and wife running it with a single helper. The majority of their income came from takeout. Every week we took leftover food home and it was good for a couple more meals. That's one way to do an immigrant operation.
But my wife and I have wanted to make a fine dining experience. Consider our staff: on a regular night, we have about 15 employees. On a busy night, that goes up to 37. We've made big investment in this business too, in the dining rooms and space. We try everyday to be better and better. For ingredients, we try to get the best out of this market and deal with great suppliers every day. Besides our many classic dishes, we are constantly offering specials and innovations, based on our travels, reading about the restaurant industry, and trying to keep up with good trends. That's the joy in it, but it takes many hours of work to invent, rework, or deconstruct to make a new item. Some projects make it to the table, many do not.
I don't mean to be defensive. Just please consider the whole business, everything that goes into a food price, and what the restaurant wants to be failry compared to. With other fine dining places, our price is right in line. If the comparison is to just any Asian restaurant, the we will be slightly higher for sure. But that cost goes somewhere, to good parts of dining out and supporting the staff that makes us Lemon Grass.
Anyway, you're our judge. Please keep giving us feedback. Next time I will talk about the quality of food products at the Grass and our Elephant.
Your Engaged Chef,