As the country's most expensive culinary establishments hike their prices amid rising food and labor costs, one of the best known U.S. restaurateurs is trying something a bit more consumer friendly. Tom Colicchio, the man behind the small empire of Craft restaurants, and the head judge of Bravo's Top Chef, is cutting prices, portion sizes, and the tasting menu at his namesake New York restaurant.
The formal dining room at Colicchio & Sons in West Chelsea has eliminated the traditional appetizer-entree-dessert selections on its menu, replacing them with a selection of mid-sized plates priced at $14-$32, a sizable drop from the previous menu format, when starters cost anywhere from $26-$39, and mains, $39-$46. As part of the price drop, Colicchio will reduce the size of proteins to three to five ounces, down from the current six to seven ounces. The $95 set menu will remain in place, but the $145 tasting will no longer be offered.
"High-quality protein is crazy expensive these days. If you want to buy a high-quality product and if you want to keep the prices down, something's gotta give," Colicchio told Eater. Indeed, the overall price of meat, fish and eggs, is up about nine percent over this time last year, per the latest U.S. consumer price index, while beef and veal prices up a whopping 18.7 percent over the course of 2014.
Colicchio's portion-size overhaul jibes with a style of dining espoused by Andrew Carmellini at Little Park, a vegetable heavy spot with all of its mid-sized plates costing $24 or less; a hanger steak is just $22. By comparison, a larger portion of that cut would cost $29 at BLT Steak in midtown, while a proper strip steak can easily fetch $55 or more around town.
"I don't order entrees anymore when I go out," Colicchio says. "My wife and I will get five appetizers between us. I thought, I don't eat this way anymore, why am I still doing it?" The portions at C&S, like at Little Park, aren't so much tapas-style small plates as they are full appetizer-sized dishes. "I never understood why you would want to share a small plate," Colicchio says.
Despite these changes, C&S's overall approach to cuisine will "stay the same," Colicchio says, with the formal dining room focused on refined, high-end American fare, and the cheaper tap room offering more rustic dishes at $20 or under. Check out the new menus, below.
Some additional notes from Eater's conversation with Tom Colicchio:
- On the state of business at Colicchio & Sons: "We had a great 2013, then in 2014, we noticed a big downturn...We're busy Thursday, Friday Saturday; during the week it's a little tougher. We're doing okay, the problem with doing just okay in that space, is that it's a big space."
- On the casual versus formal dining rooms: "If I had to do it over again, I'd have made the casual [tavern] space double what it is now."
- On the New York dining consumer: "When we started raising prices in the front room at C&S, we started losing people...I think people still are price sensitive."
- On lower prices and risk: "If you're going to lower prices, you have to hope that business catches up with it. Otherwise, if you have fewer cover counts and a lower check average, you're really shooting yourself in the foot."
- On demographics and small plates: "People's tastes are changing. It's a younger clientele coming out now. Whether it's from food programming on TV, whatever it is, they want to come in and try many different things."
- On food waste: "When you put an eight-ounce protein out there, sometimes it gets left behind...If you're a conscious eater, and you know that 30 percent of our food is wasted, after a while, you ask how you stop that. One way is smaller portions where people finish everything. And if they're still hungry, they have a third plate, instead a 12-ounce pork chop."