Le Bernardin, New York's most celebrated seafood restaurant, has raised the price of its lunch and dinner menus for the first time since the fall of 2013. The hike comes in response to rising food and health care costs, and because it's paying its workers more.
"This year, we decided to increase [our prices] a little bit because of normal inflation and health benefits, which are increasing about six to seven percent per year. So last year we absorbed that," Chef Eric Ripert tells Eater. The chef also said Le Bernardin raised the salary of the restaurant's lowest-paid non-tipped employees to around $10.75/hour in 2014. "We decided that the minimum wage doesn't allow our employees to live in New York."
Le Bernardin also offers its employees a matching 401K program.
The restaurant's client base will likely be able to weather the increases, as the hikes are modest. The eight-course tasting is now $205, up $7, which means dinner for two will cost $528 after tax and tip, or $876 after beverage pairings. The seven-course tasting, in turn, is $170, up $15, and the prix-fixe is $140, up $5, making the latter offering, by this reporter's estimates, the city's most expensive four-course menu. By contrast, Daniel charges $135 for four courses, and Jean-Georges, $128, though both of those venues charge more than Ripert's restaurant for their longer tastings.
The three Michelin-starred establishment also raised the price of lunch to $80 for three courses, up from $76. Ripert says he typically sees "no difference" in the amount of covers per night when he raises prices.
Le Bernardin's wage increases come ahead of scheduled wage hikes for New York State, and potentially, for the city itself. The state minimum, currently $8.75/hour, will go up to $9 by the year's end, and Governor Andrew Cuomo has proposed raising that wage to $11.50 in New York City. Ripert said last week Cuomo's plan would be "costly to the company" but that it would also be a "fair deal." And as Eater reported yesterday, the wages of the state's waiters and other tipped workers will go up as well, to $7.50 by the year's end, and possibly by $1 more in the city by 2017. Ripert said yesterday he'll need time to contemplate the impact of that decision, but that "ultimately, the increase will be passed in some capacity, to the consumer.
Indeed, San Francisco's most expensive restaurants, including Saison, Atelier Crenn, Quince, and Benu, have all raised the entry-level price of dining as that city's hospitality industry copes with a series of minimum wage hikes that will continue until 2018, when the base wage will be $15/hour.
Le Bernardin isn't the only restaurant to get ahead of the political process in raising its lowest wages; Mario Batali's Del Posto announced in 2013 that it wouldn't pay any of its non-tipped employees less than $10/hour.
Ripert's Midtown institution has 150 full-time staffers, which means that under the Affordable Care Act (better know as "Obamacare"), it must offer health insurance to 70 percent of its full-time employees as of 2015, and 95 percent by 2016. Restaurants and other small businesses with 50-99 staffers will also need insure its employees by 2016, while establishments with fewer than 50 employees are under no legal obligation to offer health care.
All of these developments will likely mean higher prices for the consumer throughout the industry, not just in fine dining.