Thomas Keller's Per Se, one of the country's most expensive culinary establishments, will raise its prices in the new year, a move that will clear the way for others to follow suit as restaurants across the city prepare to grapple with the cost of New York's across-the-board minimum wage increases. Looks like 2016 will be The Year of The Price Hike.
Starting in January, Per Se's service-included menus will go up by $15 to $325. So lunch or dinner for two will cost no less than $708 after tax, cementing the venue's status as the city's second most expensive restaurant after Masa. And anyone who adds on osetra caviar ($75), foie gras ($40), white truffles ($175), Wagyu ($100, seen less frequently), and wine pairings (suggested at the same price as the menu), will spend $1,132 as a solo guest. It is surely New York's most expensive meal.
The last time the three Michelin-starred venue hiked its prices, which it typically does every two to three years, was in early 2014, after the state's minimum wage went up by 75 cents to $8. Per Se's upcoming hike, in turn, will coincide with the minimum rising by a quarter to $9, the tipped-minimum increasing by 50 percent to $7.50, and the new fast food minimum being established at $10.50.
It's unlikely that any of these three regulations will directly impact Per Se – the tipped minimum doesn't apply because service is included, waiters often make well over $100,000, and the tasting menu venue obviously isn't a hamburger chain that underpays its cooks. But any minimum wage change influences the overall composition of the labor force, causing those who already make more to seek raises to avoid salary compression with those receiving government-mandated increases. So tack all that onto new federal overtime regulations, rising food costs, the need to give merit-based raises to retain longtime staffers (an increasingly expensive proposition as a restaurant ages), and a $15 price hike, and as expensive as Per Se already is, sounds about right.
The larger question of course is how much other restaurants, which will be more directly impacted by the new wage laws, will cope with the increased cost of doing business in New York. Establishments that pay their waiters the tipped minimum will see labor costs jump by $2.50/hour for each of those employees, a scenario that will likely widen the income gap between the people who cook your food and the frequently better paid folks who serve your food. Danny Meyer's Union Square Hospitality Group will help address this imbalance by eliminating tipping and raising prices. Other will simply raise prices. Jo-Ann Makovitsky, who co-owns the heralded Tocqueville and 15 East, told Eater yesterday that she plans on instituting price hikes in the ballpark of 7 to 10 percent at her restaurants in the new year. And Jean-Georges Vongerichten has hinted at further labor-related price increases as well.
The cost of dining out will rise even further in subsequent years if Cuomo's plan for a $15 minimum is approved. In San Francisco, where wages are already increasing to that level ever year, many of the city's best restaurants have instituted service-charges and raised prices by $20 or more. Corey Lee's Benu, for example, has seen its menu go from $198 to $248 in under a year. A receptionist at Keller's The French Laundry in Yountville said it's "more than likely" that the price of the dinner menu there, set at $295, would rise in January.
One more thing: Back at Per Se, the cost of a New Year's Eve second-seating is now $950 per person, up from $750 a few years back. Beverages are $450 extra. Vaya con dios!