I can safely say I’ll probably never taste the $5,000 burger at Fleur in Las Vegas, or even the $1,000 pizza at Nino’s Bellissima in New York (no matter how much caviar you pile on that pie). But I never thought I’d see the day when a plate of barbecue brisket seemed out of reach.

The brisket in question was the initially priced $130 entry to the Aaron Franklin pop-up at San Francisco’s Magnolia Brewery in the Dogpatch neighborhood. Franklin is the James Beard-award winning chef from Austin, Texas, whose bbq can draw 2-hour-plus waits at his Franklin Barbecue restaurant. The San Francisco pop-up is a stop on Franklin’s tour to promote his new cookbook.

Not surprisingly, the pop-up tickets sold out in just a few minutes when it went on sale on Friday. (And maybe because it feared some backlash from the initially publicized $130 per-head ticket, organizers quietly dropped the price to $70 right before tickets went on sale.)

But when I thought it was $130, I contemplated going and tried to get some other passionate food-loving friends to also buy a ticket so I’d have someone to go with (because buying two tickets for $260 would be way over my budget). None of my friends took the bait, no matter how many cookbooks they would get nor how many minutes we’d get to rub elbows with the chef on the docks of Magnolia Brewery. (Let’s face it, Franklin may be a bbq genius, but he’s no Jamie Oliver or Ferran Adria.)

More Events Become Out-of-Reach
Franklin’s pop-up is just one of the many food experiences in my backyard of San Francisco that I can no longer afford to attend. Like how I can probably never experience the supposed brilliance of Chef Joshua Skenes at his Saison restaurant because I just can’t imagine having the $248 for the 20-course tasting menu. Nor will I likely be able to dine among the fields when dinner at the farm would be $225 for one.

It’s not to say that I don’t spend big money for an amazing dining experience. I have a decent job (not my work as a food blogger, but my day job that pays my mortgage), making what would be a decent salary anywhere in the United States but is considered a median wage in the Bay Area. But it affords me the discretionary funds to go out and dine out, and the occasional “special celebration” dinners, such as my recent $160 meal at San Francisco’s Lazy Bear.

But these aren’t regular nights out. (My Lazy Bear dinner was actually a special treat to myself for my birthday.) Which makes me wonder, who exactly are going to these $200-plus dinners or high-priced pop-ups?

I surmise that it’s likely the new generation of technology workers, the ones filling the shiny new Twitter building on Market Street or the ones who will likely fill the towering Salesforce.com building planned for downtown; the same people who are fueling the growth of luxury condos being built around the city.

I have nothing against tech workers. It’s the tech industry that’s helping to pull the Bay Area out of the last recession, and helping to firm up the once flagging housing market. But their spending is feeding what I believe is the high prices demanded by landlords and restauranteurs. Why are restaurants charging so much for their food? Many point to the high cost of ingredients, especially when shopping for organic or sustainable goods. But in many cases the simple answer is because they can. Someone is willing to pay the price, and these days it’s those in the tech industry.

A Sign of Gentrification?
When the Franklin BBQ pop-up was initially priced at $130 per head, SFgate.com ran a poll asking if the price was worth it or whether this was a sign of the gentrification of San Francisco. Can you guess what everyone said? (The far majority of respondents chose the gentrification answer.)

There are other pop-ups or food events that I can afford to attend. And I’d probably have more fun knowing I’m not spending away my future just for the experience. But there’s a sadness to see that where I live, there are food experiences that are beyond the reach of many. This elite group of diners are enjoying experiences that many will never understand or appreciate.

Chefs need to make money and they need to support their families. But shouldn’t part of their food creations be shared by many so they get a wide-range of feedback? Shouldn’t part of the joy of cooking be seeing the joy of happy diners from all walks of life, not just those from a particular wage class?

Restaurants and food events shouldn’t be exclusive to a particular segment of society, or what I’m calling “techclusive,” because I want to live in a society where we all have the ability to experience simple pleasures like a good plate of barbecue.

Photo from the Franklin Barbecue website.

9 Responses to When Food Experiences Become ‘Techclusive’

  1. Samayou kodomo says:

    I’ve noticed this trend too, but this seems to have been occurring over the past year…

    Even at $70, I see no value in it… But they sold out in less than minutes, so someone has the expendable cash… So who do we hate, the player or the game.

    Or what about Ivan Ramen pop-up with Tartine… $54
    In Tokyo, his ramen (1100 yen or $11) was good… I would make the trip to his way off the beaten path location again. I recent has his ramen in nyc ($15) Not as good (was not a fan of his rye noodles). When I heard about his trip out here, I was hoping for more an ala cart menu, but I know his “US” ramen is not worth that price tag either… And he lost me on his rye noodles.

    In one of Jason atherton’s restaurant in SG, I saw this sign… Which sadly I agree… But know there is no equality in this world.
    https://www.flickr.com/photos/samayoukodomo/15434881831/in/set-72157645246042879

    • Ben Ben says:

      I think that’s the interesting question: who do we hate, the player who buys into these high ticket prices or the game where people know they can charge this much? That’s a tough one because you don’t know who’s more at fault for feeding the current frenzy. … BTW, I love that quote from Atherton: “Great food should be for the masses and not only for the elite.” Hear hear!

  2. Brenda Ton says:

    Excellent post. The prices of these experiences are sometimes too ridiculous to make sense, like the $130-or maybe even $70 BBQ. I mean, I would have to be a hardcore fan to want to pay that much for food – either that or be so rich that money isn’t an object.

    • Ben Ben says:

      Thanks Brenda! I thought about what I would do if I had all the money in the world. Then yes, I would definitely buy into these experiences. Hell, I’d probably go get that $5,000 burger. But I think a part of me would feel, not guilty, but sad to know others don’t get to experience this. Then I’d probably donate to a food charity that feeds the hungry.

  3. Carolyn Jung says:

    Price is a complicated matter. It’s always supply and demand, and what the market will bear. If nobody could afford it, it couldn’t be offered at that price. But yes, because we live in a very affluent area, there will always be those who can shell out that kind of money. It’s also not easy to run a restaurant in a region so expensive, especially when you factor in dizzying rents, health care mandates, higher minimum wage, and the toll the drought is taking on premium ingredients raised locally, sustainably and seasonally. Let’s hope the Bay Area will always continue to be inclusive and offer a range of experiences and tastes, which is what has made it such a dynamic place all along.

    • Ben Ben says:

      Carolyn, I agree that the supply and market affects this. But my reaction is to the fact that this was a BBQ pop-up. If it was happening in the kitchen of the French Laundry, I can see the premium pricing. But when it’s at the dock area of a brewery, does that price point make sense? So my point is that some restaurants or event aren’t pricing what’s appropriate but just because they know they can.

    • Ben Ben says:

      This event didn’t even register in my head. I saw an email this morning from Lazy Bear but didn’t realize it meant the tickets would go on sale the same day. So missed out. But I probably couldn’t afford it, even though it’s part fundraiser. With it selling out so fast, I’m actually wondering if these restaurants who use ticketing reservations have created a secondary market for people reselling tickets to food events like concert tickets. So they’ve created an environment where going out for dinner has now been ruined by capitalist pigs! LOL

  4. Samayou kodomo says:

    Ironic you mentioned that… After the Franklin BBQ tickets sold out, either before or right after, Stubhub had an events page set up for it.

    https://m.stubhub.com/food-festival-event-tickets/grouping/254737/?s_tnt=63979:0:0

    It was inevitable.