Ask your server for today’s market price

Ask your server for today’s market price

My family, growing up, wasn’t at all what one would call wealthy. We were comfortable and happy and I never lacked for a warm coat or decent shoes and all that, but we had to be careful.

Getting something luxurious like lobster at a restaurant was a treat for birthdays. On any other occasion, reading the menu and deciding what to order, someone at the table would usually remark about some pricey seafood item being marked “Ask your server for today’s market price,” which was middle class code for “you can’t afford this so move on to the salads section.”

No one was going to ask the server the price because then you have the red faced ordeal of saying, “Oh. Well. Never mind. I’ll have the chicken. Can we have more rolls?”

Last week, at a not all that special restaurant, I saw something remarkable that reflects the food prices we’re seeing now. Chicken wings, plain old buffalo chicken wings, were marked “market price.”

I could hardly believe my eyes. Was it so long ago every place in town had wing night specials when they were a quarter each? As it is now, lobster is $30 but if you want the wings, buddy, you’re going to have to ask how much.

Going out for dinner is a rarity for us, because as I’ve said here many times, the best restaurant in town is my own house. I don’t mind paying for good food that is well prepared, but that is a rarity.

At the opposite end, I deeply resent paying a lot for common food. What a shock it is to go to a plain, family place (meaning soft drinks only), order plain, pedestrian meals and then get a check for $80.

You end up feeling like a royally used sucker, like at the county fair when you walk up to the goldfish ball toss and within three minutes the carny has relieved you of $25.

If a couple of plates of fried chicken and mashed with iced tea costs $80, I am never going back there again. It’s almost as annoying as gratuity creep, where you are asked to add 15 or 20 percent every time you buy a cup of coffee. There has to be a backlash somewhere.

There are still supply chain difficulties affecting many area eateries at all levels from drive up fast food to fine dining and that’s going to impact prices, of course. One local chef told me she was unable to get her hands on turkey at any price.

The thing is, chicken wings are no longer in short supply. The high point came last year when the wholesale price for a pound of wings rose to $3.25. As of July, the price had stabilized at $1.68, dropping to 2018, pre pandemic levels, with expectations that prices would fall still further in August and September.

One hopes the admonition I saw to ask for the current market price was simply an example of a place which prints new menus every few years.

If this fall in wing prices is an indicator of what’s to come, we may begin to see food prices in general fall a bit by the end of the year. I wrote in the spring that by Christmas, we would all be priced out of prime rib for the holiday, but that has changed somewhat as beef prices have dropped a bit. Persistent droughts, affecting 60% of the U.S. herd may reverse that trend at any time. Pork prices remain high.

As my restaurateur friend noted, turkey remains hard to buy, and prices are at their highest on record. Turkey breast costing $2 in 2020 now costs $6.50 if you can get it at all. The culprit is a bird flu, which has wiped out large populations of turkeys, a very sad state of affairs for diners and farmers.

We’ll know we are in some serious, 1920s Berlin trouble when we go to a Waffle House and the two eggs over easy is set at “ask your server.”

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