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Fine Dining vs. Cheap Eats, Continued


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[HOST'S NOTE: This discussion is a continuation of the original topic Fine Dining vs. Cheap Eats]

 

The whole point of business is to sell things for more than they are worth. A business will survive and -- if it is public -- its share price will increase over time if it creates value ("profit"): i.e. generates revenues in excess of all of its costs: materials, labour, overheads, capital employed.

Value comes in many forms. Several posters have mentioned scarcity, which may be created in different ways. Cartels are effective, as with diamonds, oil, and so on. Creating a unique brand (Nike, French Laundry, Daniel) is another.

There are all sorts of analytic frameworks for describing product/service benefits. For example:

Functional benefits -- the simple economic gains product/service produces for the customer, e.g. a new car reduces my fuel consumption by 5 mpg and saves me $X per year. I am very hungry, and a dish of spaghetti is available for $1 as opposed to a truffle at $100.

Process benefits -- how the product/service is easier for the customer to find, select, procure. E.g. McDonald's is a known quantity and is on every streetcorner, so it may attract higher margins than an independent cafe even though its products may be less tasty ... the would-be customer doesn't know how good or bad the cafe's food is, and has no easy way of finding out.

Relationship benefits -- the stream of further interactions created by buying the product or service, e.g. lifetime guarantees, a banking service that invites customers to money-management seminars, etc.

Emotional benefits -- the intangible associations created by the product. Nike, again -- the weekend jogger can feel like a world-class athlete.

Positional benefits -- the buyer's ability to exclude others and gain status. Seafront homes, for example, have something of this character.

Just about every one of these could be applied to restaurants and cookery and there are other criteria that could be identified.

The essence of the argument is one made earlier on the thread by (I think) Wilfrid: you have to have some criteria for what constitutes "better". Are you seeking food as cheap, nutritious fuel? Quickly and reliably available? As a way of joining an elite? You will come up with different views of "better" depending on the criteria you choose.

Jonathan Day

"La cuisine, c'est quand les choses ont le go�t de ce qu'elles sont."

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JD - Gee eveybody is trying so hard to avoid the obvious. There shouldn't be any need to define what better means in the context we discuss it around here. When somebody here (possibly me) says that Breese chickens are superior (better) does anybody really need an explanation of what I mean? When I say that Charolais beef is better than Angus, do I have to explain what I mean by better?

You recently posted on the fish soup at Loulou and Tetou and you were unhappy with the Tetou version. Guess what, Loulou made a better fish soup than Tetou did. Is that really such a hard concept? And you know what else Loulou's fish soup is better than? The bottled version of fish soup you can get at traiteurs all over Provence. Is there an argument about that? Or are we willing to accept the opinion of someone who prefers the fish soup from the bottle because we believe that quality is subjective?

Your comments about maximizing cost do not change my general assertion that things of better and lesser quality are priced relative to their level of quality. So if a item is really worth $10 (whatever that means) and someone who is a good marketer can sell it for $15, than the item that is really worth $15 ends up getting sold for $22.50. Of course it's possible to hit a ceiling where the more expensive item might top out at a lower price but, that's the exception to the rule, not the rule. I've found that most items are scaled from the top down, especially when you are talking about luxury items. The cheaper Mercedes are priced in relation to the most expensive ones. That way they can get you to buy through the scale as you get older and make more money.

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I suspect you know the examples... Nasdaq 2000 Vintage, Dutch tulips 1624 curvee, South Sea Company Stock 1720 Special Reserve...

Since Jon brought up the Tulip Bulb craze, etc., I have to mention the book "Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds" by Charles Mackay. It was recommended to me at the beginning of my Wall St career by a very well-known trader. I can't recommend it highly enough for anyone with an interest in the financial markets or market psychology.

Sometimes When You Are Right, You Can Still Be Wrong. ~De La Vega

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>Jon - You conveniently skip over that part of my statement. I am not

>arguing that one is worth $26 more than the other, just that the market

>has acknowledged the superiority of one over the other. How the market

>sets the price is subject to supply and demand. But in reality, chopped

>meat will always cost less because they blend in cheaper cuts to make it.

>Now why do you think some cuts cost less than others, marketing?

I reiterate my point that the price the market puts on food is distorted by so many other factors that it is unreliable to use it as a guide to quality. What's a cheaper cut? Not necessarily a worse cut, just one who's uses doesn't fit in with the market's needs.

I'd rather pay more for pork belly than pork fillet because belly tastes nicer, is moister and has a lovely crispy skin. The market however would not cos fillet cooks quicker (belly can be just as tender; just takes longer), is leaner and is perceived as higher quality. Governing factors: convenience, leanness, perception. But not quality and/or taste.

Chinese pay more for chicken leg than breast. Westerners value the white meat about all. Governing factors: cultural perception. But not quality and/or taste.

Five or ten years ago butchers were virtually giving lamb shanks away, but now every tom dick and gordon has figured out they can be braised, plated and presented on a pile of garlic/musard/truffled mash prices have shot up. Governing factors: perception by the consumer, how many of the damn things we can sell. But not quality and/or taste.

And yes, marketing is another of those factors which affect market perceptions. New Zealand lamb anyone? Why /do/ people pay premium prices for sheep which has been frozen and shipped halfway across the world, when they have excellent meat on their doorstep?

cheerio

J

More Cookbooks than Sense - my new Cookbook blog!
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There are all sorts of analytic frameworks for describing product/service benefits.

Well said, JD. The essential point is that "quality" does not exist absent some shared perception in society, as Steve P seems to think it does. It is not like gold content in ore that can be assayed and measured. People buy benefits, as you so well summarized. And it is the benefit they pay for. Some benefits are harder won than others and, so, cost more. The seller recognizes that he/she has something for which more than a few people will be willing to shell out big bucks, so he prices it accordingly. Resale value is but one benefit. admiration of others is another. So are self-aggrandisement, peace of mind, sensory pleasure, momentary fun, extacy, less work and so on.

If Mercedes built an S600 that looked exactly like a Chevy Malibu, how many people would pay $130,000 for it? Quality is only one part of the formula. The 21 Club hamburger may be made of more expensive meat than those at Burger Heaven, but you'll have a hard time convincing me that it is worth $22 more.

Many years ago, I heard that the selling strategy of gold double eagle coins was debated, following the recovery of a treasure ship's contents of hundreds in MS20 (the best) condition. Prior to this discovery, MS20 double eagle coins sold for $3500-4,000. If all were put on the market, it was feared that the price would drop to $500. Scarcity drove resale value which drove the selling strategy. There was no such thing as intrinsic value (quality/price) in the coin market.

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Jaybee - You too aren't focusing on what I'm saying. All I'm saying is that there is value in better quality. How much value is another thing because in translating that quality for a consumer it goes through all sorts of market manipulations. But let's take your Chevy Malibu example. If Mercedes made a 600S that looked like a Chevy Malibu they might not be able to get $135K for it, but it would still be a "better" car than the Chevy. Mercedes just makes better cars than GM does. Especially at that price point. Better quality is simply better quality. How marketers translate that quality doesn't negate the fact that there is a qualitative difference between the items. True the market can distort things to a large degree but, that has nothing to do with a comparison of products at their base level.

But this has little to do with comparing hamburgers and steaks. Or a Bresse chicken and Kentucky Fried Chicken. In those instances the qualitative difference is recognized by relative pricing. Not by the amount you pay extra for the real estate at the 21 Club. And if you were to strip all the excesses away (all things being equal) you would find that the chopped meat they use at the 21 Club costs $X a pound and the steak costs $Y because people value the qualities of a steak more than a hamburger (that's because it tastes better but don't tell anyone lest they might get upset.)

Robert S. - It depends on how good the banana and formaggio are. It can be simple or complex depending on their quality. But if you add maybe some fresh halved almonds it would add complexity which would probably make it better. I wonder if a Picasso banana peel is worth more than a Richard Widmark grapefruit?

Jon T. - Excellent post. But it fails to discuss the difference beween good lamb shanks and bad ones. Things being equal, good lamb shanks WILL ALWAYS be priced higher than bad ones.

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True the market can distort things to a large degree but, that has nothing to do with a comparison of products at their base level.

I accept your thesis with regard to quality that can be objectively and quantitatively evaluated (at a base level). Where I, (and I suspect others), have a problem, is when you pronounce something superior based on your qualitative, subjective evaluation and, then, state it as fact. Putting cost aside, as you suggest doing, it may be a fact that you believe steak is better than hamburger, but to objectify a subjective opinion based on your own assessment criteria is objectionable, subjectively speaking, that is.

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So on the price to quality relation.

If it is possible to show that a better quality version of a product (in a fairly liquid market, say) commands a lower price than another version we have two conclusions:

1. (SteveP) The first product was not as good a quality as the second, it costs less and is therefore worse.

2. (Not(Steve)P) Attempts to measure quality (yes within the confines of general cultural agreement etc) by price is pointless and this bit of the argument is somewhat redundant (as per various previous posters).

For example beautifully shaped fruit commands a premium price over 'better' tasting fruit (though not a premium over 'organic' well shaped fruit).

I agree with Steve that it is damn hard to get a decent steak in Britain - I generally stick with steak pie.

Wilma squawks no more

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The most hated food in Britain, ...Is tripe, according to the Daily Mail.

Would good quality tripe cost more than lesser quality tripe in Britian? Would an "average" Englishman (excludes Wilfrid and other present company) be able to tell good tripe from bad?

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Except that the same criteria that I use, and which you want to call subjective, happens to be the same criteria the market uses when they are being objective about it :wink:. That the market then has a method of turning that objective measure into more and less dollars and cents doesn't negate that they view it objectively from the getgo. It's like the story that Hank told (I've haven't seen him here for awhile) tells about Mrs. Forman from Peter Luger's coming to pick out shells for the restaurant. She picks *the best steaks.* She just doesn't call up and say send me 500 shells. There is such a thing as better quality and worse quality and she knows it. And a smart butcher would charge a customer who cherrypicked the best ones more money per pound because *they are worth more.*

It's the same with all food. Better quality brings a higher price. If you and I were to go to the dock in Montauk and watch the fisherman come in with their catch of tuna, the best quality fish would be sold on the spot for the most money. And the reason the best quality fish sells for more money is because it tastes better. Now can they screw around with the price by limiting their catch to run up prices? Sure they can. But Grade A tuna will always sell for more money than Grade B tuna. That's because it tastes better. It's really that simple and nothing at all about it is subjective.

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But if you add maybe some fresh halved almonds it would add complexity which would probably make it better.

Sometimes I feel like a nut, sometimes I don't. I agree that the nuts - maybe walnuts would be the thing - would add something, and make the experience more complex. But not better, just different.

Who said "There are no three star restaurants, only three star meals"?

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but hamburger tastes better then fillet steak! honest! lets look at it //objectively//, by breaking it down into component elements:

hamburger: moist/juicy, seasoned right through (cos you season the mince first), mouth-feel, texture (if the meat is properly hacheed).

fillet steak: mushy texture (no mouth feel as meat is uniformly tender), not seasoned all the way through, little flavour developed as muscle so infrequently used.

so there you have it. on an //objective// basis hamburger is better than steak

but the market differs... so maybe //objective// isn't as objective after all...

;-)

j

>But Grade A tuna will always sell for more money than Grade B tuna.

Exactly - labels. even if the Grade A wasn't as good as the Grade B. Won't happen? errr Vin de pays vs AOC anyone?

More Cookbooks than Sense - my new Cookbook blog!
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I need to add one more thing re: hamburgers. The process of grinding up the meat eliminates many of the unusual and best qualities that you get from a steak. Granted it creates different types of qualities that are valuable, but those qualities are aesthetically inferior to the ones you get when a steak is served. And that is why a hamburger has become a situational food that is eaten in less formal circumstances than a steak is. It is far more challenging to eat a steak than it is to eat a burger.

There is something in this point that speaks to why the French never adopted the hamburger and in large part never constructed a cuisine around ground meat the way other cultures did. Look at the Italian ragu. Or the various kebab cultures that thrive from Croatia clear across to India. Could it be that the ground meat culture came about in places where they couldn't afford quality beef and it was cheap to use ground? Shepherd's Pie is another one like that. And I guess there is the French Hachis Parmentier but the culture in France is really Steak Frittes. Anyone able to add to this?

Jon T. - If you think a hamburger tastes as good as a good filet steak, you need to come to NYC and eat both a hamburger and a filet steak.

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but hamburger tastes better then fillet steak! honest! lets look at it //objectively//, by breaking it down into component elements:

hamburger: moist/juicy, seasoned right through (cos you season the mince first), mouth-feel, texture (if the meat is properly hacheed).

fillet steak: mushy texture (no mouth feel as meat is uniformly tender), not seasoned all the way through, little flavour developed as muscle so infrequently used.

so there you have it. on an //objective// basis hamburger is better than steak

but the market differs... so maybe //objective// isn't as objective after all...

Excellent analysis, Jon. We often forget the importance mouth-feel and texture bring to the sensual satisfaction of eating and to our later memory of the food.

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"I'm a gemologist."

My mom studied gemology as a hobby a while ago, and received accredition to practice under the applicable leading UK organization. She never practiced it professionally, but is proactive about ensuring she gets "value for her money". She felt that Cartier and Bulgari diamonds are not good purchases relative to what one could purchase a comparable diamond at wholesale (and have made at places she knew). I end up buying Cartier or Mikimoto (I like dropped tiny pearls) earrings for myself (little ones) when I feel particularly deserving once in a while, but accept rings she has made for me from time to time. :laugh: Back to dining, I actually do wear a bit of jewelry almost all the time (usually simple earrings and a ring) and it is one of the ways I present myself nicely for myself, including when I go to restaurants. I also use a lot of designer clutch handbags. It's not a question of liking the brand, as it is that my identification of the brands of clothing and accessories I like (e.g., Cerrutti, Max Mara) helps me to identify individual items I like with limited effort. I don't have to go and scour 40 stores to find the 4 pieces I like. If I go to certain stores (4-5) that I have identified from past experience fit me, I have a fairly decent chance of locating 4 pieces as well. There's a close analogy to restaurants, relating to why in France, concurrently, (1) I am visiting restaurants I have not been to before, but making assessments over the course of, in many cases, one visit (for non-three-stars) about whether the restaurant is worth my visit in the foreseeable future (of course, things can change over the course of 5-10 years, so I might revisit), and (2) I have an extremely short list of restaurants that meet my expectations. If I go to a hodge-podge of 40 different restaurants for 40 meals, I am unlikely to find even one meal that is to my subjective satisfaction. However, when I go to the restaurants that I have identified suit my subjective preferences, I am very likely to receive a superb meal. :laugh:

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>Granted it creates different types of qualities that are valuable, but those

>qualities are aesthetically inferior to the ones you get when a steak is

>served.

still think its more to do with the value society places on large pieces of tender meat - which is a culture thing not a taste thing. viz the chicken breast vs leg example. is chicken leg "aesthetically inferior" to breast? nope - its more tender, has more flavour and doesn't dry out half the time you try to cook it, but western culture thinks it is.

>Could it be that the ground meat culture came about in places where >they couldn't afford quality beef and it was cheap to use ground?

Suspect more a cooking technique thing. french/brits had spits, ovens and saute pans, whereas in "kebab culture" you tend to find barbeques where the heat is lower/less concentrated than an oven so you'll want ya meat chopped into bits and stuck on a stick.

this is definitely true of the far east where expensive fuel = quick stir fries = need to chop meat up into little bits. no reflection on the meat, rather - as ever - on though omnipresent non-taste-related factors ;-)

>Jon T. - If you think a hamburger tastes as good as a good filet steak,

>you need to come to NYC and eat both a hamburger and a filet steak.

well the fillet steak was from gordon ramsay, and quite quite boring. if you presume three star (frenchy) chefs cook superior food, then i presume this was a superior steak...

cheerio

j

More Cookbooks than Sense - my new Cookbook blog!
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I think that everyone has been misusing the word simple. What I think you and others mean when you use the word simple isn't really simple, it means complex with the expenditure of less effort. And when you use it in that context, you conveniently leave out the time and the effort it took for someone to be at a level where they make complex things in a simple way.

This just keeps getting better. So rather than just admit that simple can sometimes be better than complex, you're creating this tortured framework that requires us to believe that whenever something simple is better than something complex it's because it's secretly more complex but requires less apparent effort because the ability to expend less effort derives from complex training. This is I assume how you plan to argue your way out of the "what about minimalism?" hole you're worried about falling into now that you've thought about your argument more. Remember when I said you'd back away from your position? I was wrong. You're willing to take your position to an even greater and more absurd extreme rather than admit that you simply overstated it in the first place.

I haven't been ignoring your wine example. I immediately explained that it's not relevant. You just decided to keep repeating it despite this lack of relevance. Better wine from a particular producer or carefully controlled region is of course going to cost more than worse wine from that same source (though it gets more complicated when you get into situations like with the Super Tuscans). And of course better beef costs more than worse beef (except when a foreign source of better beef turns up and the currency exchange makes it cheaper; and except when cultural tastes differ, such as when the beef the Japanese pay top dollar for tastes too fatty to most Americans). And of course the ideal steak is better than the ideal hamburger. And of course you continue to mis-define the category, not to mention the term qualitative. You're stretching credibility to the breaking point when you try to extrapolate those linear examples to cover everything in the universe. It's nonsensical. Cod and lobster are still staring you in the face. Is lobster better than chicken? Either way you answer, I can show you a time in the past century when one cost more than the other -- either way. If you want to see who's not listening, look at who's doing all the talking.

One other thing, Plotnicki: It's a whole heck of a lot more complex to make a hamburger than it is to make a steak. Yet steak is better than hamburger. What are we to make of that?

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Jon - It doesn't make a difference what the Chinese valued vs Western palates. We already said yesterday that this discussion is limited to a western view of things. And to say they ground up the meat to suit the cooking technique puts the cart in front of the horse. In Italy they couldn't afford meat so they used a bit of ground meat to flavor their dishes. That's all they could afford. And I'm sure you will find tough meat at the bottom of the kebab culture. But people who could afford better food ate whole lamb chops and didn't grind anything up. And to say that hamburger has a better mouthfeel than filet steak, only someone who doesn't know anything about steak can take that position.

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still think its more to do with the value society places on large pieces of tender meat - which is a culture thing not a taste thing. viz the chicken breast vs leg example. is chicken leg "aesthetically inferior" to breast? nope - its more tender, has more flavour and doesn't dry out half the time you try to cook it, but western culture thinks it is.

Jon -- I am not sure that chicken breast is necessarily unduly highlighted relative to chicken thigh in French cuisine. It might be in French or related food in the US. There might still be a tendency to serve chicken breast if it is the sole piece being served in France. However, certain chicken dishes at three-star restaurants in France are presented to the diner in two servings, with sometimes a thigh/leg portion included as the second (e.g., Loiseau's Alexandre Dumaine chicken, Westermann's Bresse chicken in a Baekekoffe, spelling; Ami Louis' roast farm chicken -- which I have never sampled but which looked large and wonderful and which I studied visually in detail). :wink:

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I agree with Steve that it is damn hard to get a decent steak in Britain - I generally stick with steak pie.

:wink:

"I've caught you Richardson, stuffing spit-backs in your vile maw. 'Let tomorrow's omelets go empty,' is that your fucking attitude?" -E. B. Farnum

"Behold, I teach you the ubermunch. The ubermunch is the meaning of the earth. Let your will say: the ubermunch shall be the meaning of the earth!" -Fritzy N.

"It's okay to like celery more than yogurt, but it's not okay to think that batter is yogurt."

Serving fine and fresh gratuitous comments since Oct 5 2001, 09:53 PM

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So, Steve P, are you trying to say:

"Most of the time, you have to pay more to get more"

-OR-

"Most of the time, when you pay more you get more"

These statements are very different, I think. The first is much more likely to be true than the second.

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jordyn, perhaps get more better.

"I've caught you Richardson, stuffing spit-backs in your vile maw. 'Let tomorrow's omelets go empty,' is that your fucking attitude?" -E. B. Farnum

"Behold, I teach you the ubermunch. The ubermunch is the meaning of the earth. Let your will say: the ubermunch shall be the meaning of the earth!" -Fritzy N.

"It's okay to like celery more than yogurt, but it's not okay to think that batter is yogurt."

Serving fine and fresh gratuitous comments since Oct 5 2001, 09:53 PM

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I note what you say about Feyerabend.  Coming from a scientist, that's scary, but doesn't mean it's wrong.

I'm not suggesting that science doesn't generate true(ish) statements about the world. I think it does. But how it does it is a bit mysterious and not at all consistent from discipline to discipline.

Yes, that's what worries philosophers - not that it need worry scientists. Something as astonishingly successful as science really ought to be based in rationality. And it's annoying that we still can't demonstrate that it is.

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