Crave a Fancy Meal, but Canot Afford It?

Some upscale restaurants are rolling out cheaper versions of their menus to broaden appeal

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At Italienne, a restaurant in Manhattan's Flatiron District with French and Italian influences, patrons once could spend anywhere from $40 to $55 on such menu items as Wagyu steak and venison paired with foie gras. For those who really wanted to make an evening of it, the dining spot offered a six-course tasting menu, dubbed “un voyage d'italienne,” for $125, with an optional wine pairing for an additional $95.
 But as of this month, the restaurant, which opened in late 2016, has rebranded itself as the more casual Trattoria Italienne, and is touting a new menu with many lower-priced offerings.
 Bar snacks can be had for as little as $3 and entrees generally top out at about $35. And while there is still a tasting menu, it is a relatively modest four-course affair that runs $65.
 The idea, says general manager and co-owner James King, is to make the restaurant more welcoming so diners stop by a few times a month rather than seeing it as an occasion-only destination. “We'd have people say, ‘We love this place. We'll be back for our anniversary,' ” Mr. King says.
 Trattoria Italienne is hardly the only New York City restaurant taking a fresh look at pricing these days in an effort to broaden its customer base. In some instances, dining spots are trying to offer two concepts under a single roof and appeal to different market segments simultaneously.
 When the Michelinstarred, Paris-based chef Joël Robuchon opened his high-end L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon restaurant in the Meatpacking District last November, he had it share space with his “elegant, yet approachable” Le Grill de Joël Robuchon concept.
 At the former, a main course can cost as much as $135 and tasting menus run $145 to $265. At the latter, there is a three-course prix-fixe menu for $65. All prices include tipping.
 Alex Gaudelet, CEO of Invest Hospitality, the New York-based company that has partnered with Mr. Robuchon on the restaurants, says dishes are created with “the same attention to detail” at both restaurants. The main difference is that L'Atelier puts an emphasis on more fanciful preparations.
 If anything, Mr. Gaudelet sees Le Grill as a starting point for some diners, especially millennials, who appreciate fine cuisine, but can't necessarily pay to enjoy it in its most luxurious iteration— at least not yet. “In four or five years, maybe they can afford to come to L'Atelier,” he says. “It's like recruiting the next generation.”
 Agern, the Nordic-inspired restaurant in Grand Central Terminal that also offers $100-plus tasting menus, has taken another approach to pricing. In recent weeks, it has expanded its a la carte offerings—even going so far as to add a burger and chicken wings, albeit in gourmet- minded versions. The $26 burger, for example, is made with a secret-spice mix, according to chef Gunnar Gíslason, and is served on a bun seasoned with smoked salt and vegetable “ash.”
 The reason for the change, explains owner Claus Meyer, has to do with the difficulty the restaurant has faced attracting patrons since having to shut down for a time because of a flood in Grand Central. “We felt the need to be slightly more relevant to hundreds of people who don't need a 10-course tasting menu,” he says.
 Ultimately, each restaurant may have its individual reasons for adopting lower-price models and approaches. But if there is a common thread, it is the increased emphasis on casual dining in our culinary culture, says Arlene Spiegel, a New York-based hospitality consultant.
 Today's diner “doesn't want the restaurant to tell them what to wear or how much to spend,” she says. “They want to feel welcome whether they are in jeans or tuxedos.”


Trattoria Italienne, above, is offering a new menu with lower-priced options. Below, lobster bisque is served at Le Grill de Joël Robuchon.


BY CHARLES PASSY

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