Food and wine economics

posted by Cliff Kuang   Jun 02, 2008

Felix Salmon ponders why people for some reason tend not to pony up for good food, but will pony up for good wine:

Why does food behave in the opposite manner to wine, in this respect? The same bottle of wine, we know, will taste better the more expensive it is. Yet while price reassures us in the case of wine, and even intimidates us into liking the bottle more, it seems to serve no such role in the case of food, where we're much more likely to consider a high price a sign of being ripped off.

I've thought about this before; basically I refuse to pay a lot for wine but I'll pay a good deal for great food. My argument: Compare a $10 bottle of wine to $100 bottle of wine. If they're both great, the more expensive bottle won't be ten times more delicious. And either way, you're unlikely to notice the deliciousness after a glass and a half.

Compare that to a $10 plate of food versus a $40 plate of food. If you're careful with your restaurant choice, I'm betting the $40 plate of food potentially can be at least four times better than the cheaper one. (Though cheap, amazing meals are always out there.) And you'll probably enjoy every single bite. As a corollary, I really do think EVERY great restaurant, if they're as serious about their food as they are about their receipts, will offer cheap bottles on their menu. One example: Babbo. Though I think the restaurant isn't as great as it once was, Batali has always offered bottles below $40.

: I just remembered that even Per Se offers cheap bottles—$35, if I recall right—at dinner.

Update 2: After an interesting conversation I had with Michael, I got to thinking about what it might mean to say that one subjective experience—like the taste of a meal—is "four times" better than another. And I think there's a simple way to quantify it: Would you recall, with fondness, the experience of one four times as often as the experience of the other? Take my experience at Per Se, for example: I've told the story of that meal—the food, not the setting—many many times. At least 20 times as often as I've told people about the deliciousness of the duck at my favorite noodle shop. And the meal probably cost about 20 times more.