Appropriate donation for a dinner in a restaurant in a new location?
March 5, 2013 8:06 AM   Subscribe

We're going to a restaurant that is just moving to a new location. At their old location they charged $115 for the type of dinner we're having (chef's tasting with wine pairings) and were successful and well-reviewed. This is their pre-opening week, and they say they have a few wrinkles to iron out so are asking for donations at diners' discretion to help cover costs. What would be an appropriate amount -- or range, depending on how it goes?

I'm going in a group of 4 that includes 2 people I don't know, so it has the potential to be an awkward situation, and I'd like to get a read on what seems appropriate, maybe especially from someone who's worked at a restaurant that's done this.

I'm very familiar with fine dining and do not balk at a $115 tasting; that's not the issue.

I've looked at this question, but that was for friends and family; this is for the general public. Plus this is an established restaurant that's changing to a new location, not an entirely unknown entity. Thanks.
posted by palliser to Food & Drink (8 answers total)
Best answer: I guess I'd go and pay full price if everything goes as well as it had at the old place, and maybe knock a bit off if things don't go smoothly?

If you're getting the same top-quality meal, I don't see a reason why you would pay less than you would otherwise simply because the restaurant has warned that they're ironing out the kinks. If you don't get a top-quality meal, by all means pay correspondingly less. But I wouldn't pay less simply because they said you could.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 8:20 AM on March 5, 2013 [3 favorites]

A while ago in another town, there was a restaurant we were regulars at. One evening we wandered down, they were having electrical troubles, but there were two or three other regulars there at the same time and the owner and the one waiter who were still there said "let me see what we can work up for you". They put out candles on the tables, he fired up the gas stove in the back, and whipped us up dinner.

Came time for the bill and he said "it's on the house", so we left our customary amount plus a little bit on the table. Got followed out with a "no no no" and we said "yes".

If the message you're sending is "we're regulars here, we want to develop a relationship with you and support you and have you treat us well", I'd go for the usual amount. If it's high, you'll be fondly remembered. If it's low, they'll know to adjust their expectations, and it's not so low as to be insulting.

I assume you can contact the 2 people you don't know: I'd lay this out to them.
posted by straw at 8:22 AM on March 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm confused. Are they having a soft open week where meals are a "suggested donation" price rather than normal as-posted-on-the-menu price? Or are they soliciting donations in addition to what you'll pay for your meal?

If the former, pay what you usually pay.

If the latter, uhhhh, it's a for profit business they're running. They shouldn't be asking you for donations unless it's going to a charitable cause. I'm always creeped out when businesses plead charity because, like, it's hard out there in these rough economic times. I guess if you feel more sympathetic to their plight, give whatever you're comfortable with. But don't expect your guests you don't know to feel the same way. I certainly wouldn't feel compelled to donate in this case.
posted by Sara C. at 8:26 AM on March 5, 2013

Personally, I'd anticipate paying the customary amount for a place I liked and for a chef or owner who valued my opinion enough to offer me an invite to a pre-opening.

Restaurants like this, with an owner & chef, are an artistic vehicle as much as anything else, and I'd view it on those terms. You're being favoured as one of their clients/audience whose opinion they value. As straw says, this is about how you want that relationship to be reciprocated in the future, and what value you feel this place has, culinarily, culturally, personally.

You'll probably also be asked to comment on the meal and the service afterwards. Might be wise to take notes, at least mentally during the event.
posted by bonehead at 9:03 AM on March 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

Personally, I'd anticipate paying the customary amount for a place I liked and for a chef or owner who valued my opinion enough to offer me an invite to a pre-opening.

This. If anything is mildly wrong, like a long wait or slightly off food, still pay the full amount but let the management know what the issue was just to make sure they can correct it.
posted by Doohickie at 9:34 AM on March 5, 2013

It seems like a coded message for "we'd love to be charging full price for things what with all the expenses we've had in the move but systems are new and there's a good chance things will fuck up and then we'd feel bad that you didn't have a great experience and still had to pay full price soooo here's your notification that we'll serve you the best meal we can and if you'd pay us whatever you think is right that'd be super helpful."

I always like to treat small local businesses as kindly as I can. The money stays in town, and that's important.
posted by seanmpuckett at 9:52 AM on March 5, 2013 [5 favorites]

"A few wrinkles to iron out" might mean "Our food/service might be variable because the place is new," or it might mean "We don't yet have the right licence in place to be allowed to bill you for your food/drink, but we can't afford to put back the opening, so we'd be grateful if you'd pay up anyway and we'll call it a donation".

Finding out which it is might help you decide.
posted by penguin pie at 10:58 AM on March 5, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks, everyone! I'm glad to see it's fairly unanimous here, since that makes it unlikely the two people I don't know will feel any different.

Sara C., the former. Thanks for the thoroughness, and sorry for my confusing wording.
posted by palliser at 12:07 PM on March 5, 2013

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