What A Very Old Menu Tells Us About The Price Of Steak | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

NPR : News

Filed Under:

What A Very Old Menu Tells Us About The Price Of Steak

Delmonico's, the New York City steakhouse, has been around forever.

The New York Public Library's archival menu collection doesn't go back quite that far. But it does have a Delmonico's menu from 1918. The archive also, sort of randomly, has a Delmonico's menu from 1988. Delmonico's current menu is online.

One item that's on all three menus: filet mignon.

This allows us to ask an interesting (to us) question: How has the price of filet mignon changed over the past century? Here's the answer, adjusted for inflation.

So the price went way up between 1918 and 1988 — then it fell significantly. What drove the price changes?

A restaurant's costs can be split into three buckets: food, labor, and everything else (rent, insurance, marketing, etc). Each bucket accounts for about a third of a restaurant's costs, according to Arno Schmidt, a former executive chef at the Waldorf-Astoria who has worked in kitchens since 1946.

The "everything else" bucket is hard to parse — there are, obviously, many details we don't know. Still, we can look at the price of a pound of steak and the price of labor over time.

The price of a pound of steak held pretty steady between 1918 and 1988. Then it went way down between 1988 and 2012. (We discussed the decline in meat prices in our post, What Americans Spend On Groceries.)

The price of labor — hourly wages for service-sector workers — rose significantly between 1918 and 1988. Then it flattened out, as wages stagnated. (We couldn't find a data set for this that runs from 1918 through the present — the best one we could find ends at 2002 and is rather inconsistent. If you know of a better one, let us know.)

Taken together, there's a pretty coherent story here — and one that resonates with broad shifts in the U.S. economy. Over the course of the 20th century, rising wages drove up the price of a filet mignon at Delmonico's. In recent decades, wages stagnated while beef prices declined, and the price of filet mignon fell.

Note: We called Delmonico's about this post. They told us the owner of the restaurant was out of town and not available to comment.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

NPR

The World Music Education of Philip Glass

In his new memoir, Music Without Words, the composer explains how a chance meeting with Ravi Shankar sparked a fascination with the cultures of the world and their music.
NPR

PepsiCo Swaps Diet Drink's Aspartame For Other Artificial Sweeteners

The company says Diet Pepsi consumers are concerned about aspartame. But the Food and Drug Administration has long affirmed that the sweetener is safe in amounts commonly used by beverage companies.
NPR

Surgeon General Vivek Murthy On Gun Control, Vaccines And Science

Surgeon General Vivek Murthy was officially sworn in this week. His confirmation was held up for more than a year because of comments he made about gun violence. Murthy talks with NPR's Scott Simon.
NPR

As Health Apps Hop On The Apple Watch, Privacy Will Be Key

The notion of receiving nutrition advice from artificial intelligence on your wrist may seem like science fiction. But health developers are betting this kind of behavior will become the norm.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.