Worth it for the Quality
The Bay Area is renowned for being a center of technological innovation. What people often overlook is the far tastier fuel behind such innovation: the area is also a gastronomic hub for one-of-a-kind foods. A recent boom in gourmet food eateries in the Bay Area has attracted food fanatics and curious diners alike. In addition to offering unique flavor profiles that are coveted by these foodies, gourmet restaurants manage to pull off the laidback, simple but epicurean feeling of an elevated grilled cheese sandwich or liquid nitrogen-churned ice cream.
Gourmet eateries get called out for being too expensive and unhealthy, but they are often misrepresented. From the ambience to food quality to customer service, gourmet dining is becoming a more popular dining choice, and for good reasons. Gourmet food restaurants like Umami Burger, The Melt, Scoop Microcreamery and others are offering high-quality cuisine for justified prices.
While pricing is subjective and solely based on the buyer’s budget, gourmet restaurants offer certain specialties and notable qualities that bring up their prices. For example, Umami Burger boasts housemade sauces and condiments, and The Melt prides itself by offering 100 percent recyclable or compostable supplies and all natural ingredients. Scoop Microcreamery even offers novelty ice cream flavors like saffron, maple bacon crunch, chili mango sorbet and others, which are all made using a liquid nitrogen churning process.
These eateries offer a unique experience to the customer, but these experiences come with a price. For example, Scoop Microcreamery offers two scoops of ice cream for $4.50 while two scoops at Baskin Robbins cost $3.69. But considering the nitrogen churning process and unusual flavors that Scoop uses, in addition to it being a microcreamery (small batches are made), charging one more dollar for Scoop’s ice cream is reasonable. After all, novelty sells, especially in a food-oriented environment such as the Bay Area.
Health is also a big factor when considering the quality of a restaurant. Fast food restaurants like McDonalds do not offer the same quality of ingredients compared to more high-end restaurants and are more vague about exactly what ingredients they are using. And while gourmet food may not have specific defining parameters, the quality of ingredients, originality of flavors and dishes and well-rounded experience that these eateries offer justice.
Not Worth the Extra Cost
The recipe is simple enough— take a classic comfort food, spin a couple variations and set up a higher food chain. Indeed, the idea seems to have taken off in the Bay Area, with chains such as The Melt, Umami Burgers and Scoop Microcreamery all capitalizing on this idea to market gourmet versions of grilled cheese sandwiches, hamburgers, and liquid nitrogen ice cream, respectively, at hefty prices. But is the upgraded food really worth the cost?
The answer is a resounding “no.” Gourmet by its very definition implies food that is prepared with care, made with high-quality ingredients and presented tastefully. Chains such as Melt and Umami Burgers may meet the standard of high-quality ingredients by using artisan cheese and all-natural beef, but who is to say that their sandwiches or burgers are prepared with more care than one from any other restaurant? After all, quality is a difficult thing to control when they are such large business chains. And what about their presentation? Who is to say that it is worth the extra five dollars?
In addition, the driving force behind many of these chains is the familiarity of their food. You would be hard pressed to find a teenager who has never heard of a grilled cheese or ice cream sandwich. Both are entrenched in our childhood memories as the quintessential party or comfort food and both are easy to whip up. Yet chains like the Melt and Cream lure us to shell out extra money for something that we could easily make at home by appealing to our emotional connection to these foods. Dangling the word “gourmet” in front of their brand names does not hurt either. Exploiting these two tactics, food chains are able to make lucrative business out of something as simple as a grilled cheese sandwich.
Ultimately, whether or not the food is truly gourmet and worth the price can only be determined by the customer (and his or her stomach). But, before stepping into one of these new eateries, it is important for consumers to stop and consider the balance between the stomach and the wallet. Are they really getting what they are paying for? The answer will vary according to the individual, but I believe not.