Since 2007, the Michelin Guide has awarded The French Laundry their highest rating of three stars. Unless you’re really rich or a politician, you will likely have to wait months to get a reservation at this Yountville, California restaurant in Napa Valley.
Deca-millionaire California Governor Gavin Newsom and his wife were spotted having an opulent dinner with California Medical Association officials in mid-November. The 12 of them were all sitting in close quarters indoors without masks, which is against what Newsom has been encouraging Californians to do.
As a ONIG Financial Blog, you know the rules are different for politicians and the rest of us. Therefore, none of us should be surprised or angry at the hypocrisy. After all, it is the people who give politicians power by voting.
Instead of getting upset, think about the bright side.
Perhaps Newsom and his rich and powerful friends know something we don’t? Maybe COVID-19 isn’t as deadly as they are making it out to be. Or maybe they secretly got vaccinated already since that’s what politicians tend to do, take care of themselves first.
If these things weren’t true, Gavin and his wife wouldn’t have risked dining with the glass doors closed with multiple households, especially since they still have young children. Politicians also wouldn’t sing the virtues of a public school education while sending their kids to private school.
But enough about Gavin’s actions. Let’s talk about the cost of The French Laundry and how rich one must be to dine at similar types of restaurants!
The French Laundry costs $350 per person to dine. There are two set menus to choose from, the Chef’s Tasting (meat and seafood) and the Tasting of Vegetables. I don’t know about you, but I’m not going to spend $350 to taste some cabbage!
Each menu is nine courses, not including the opening “appetizers,” aka Amuse Bouche, which are included. To have the full French Laundry experience, you should consider pairing your food with wine.
Wines by the glass are around $35 for whites and $45 for reds. Bottles cost hundreds of dollars. And if you bring your own, there is a $150 corkage fee. Once you order a couple glasses of wine with your meal and a desert wine, expect to pay an additional $150 more.
Budgeting $500 per person is, therefore, recommended by patrons and the Napa tourist guide. Unless you plan to dine alone, expect to pay $1,000 or so if you’re taking someone on a date. At least they include a 20% tip in the price.
Would you pay $350 to eat everything on this meat and seafood menu? If someone else was paying using someone else’s money, probably. However, I think I could happily spend $70 – $100 and find the same amount of delight elsewhere.
If you want to spend even more money at The French Laundry, here are more options:
Bottom line: In order to eat at The French Laundry, you need to be rich or have rich friends who are willing to pay the bill.
To comfortably afford paying $500 per person, my initial thought was that someone needs to earn at least a top one percent income of ~$470,000 or be worth at least $3 million.
Remember, you’re not just paying for yourself. You’re likely paying for between 1- 3 other people most of the time. This means your bill will usually be between $1,000 – $2,000.
Let’s put $500 per meal into perspective.
A top quality dry-aged steak dinner with wine and desert costs at most $250 per person after tip. You could also eat 20 slices of the finest blue fin toro for $250 as well. To spend 2X more is simply outrageous.
Of course, how rich you need to be depends on the frequency of dining at such establishments. If you’re going for your 10-year wedding anniversary or your honeymoon, maybe you can earn as little as $300,000 a year or be worth just $1 million. Even so, paying $500 per person still feels excessive.
But instead of going with my gut feeling, let’s review what the typical American spends on food and extrapolate.
Below is the latest average income and expenditures for Americans from the BLS. The average American makes a healthy $82,852 a year and spends $8,169 on food, which equals 10% of income. The average expenditure on food away from home was $3,526, or 4.25% of average income. This line item is where eating out at restaurants fits in.
Let’s say the average amount most frugal diners at The French Laundry spend on all restaurants a month is $1,000, or $12,000 a year. The $1,000 a month is spent on two dinners and two lunches a week on average.
Now let’s add on another $1,000 for an annual French Laundry-type dinner. The total annual restaurant expenditure is now $13,000. If we then divide $13,000 by 4.25%, the percent of income the average American spends a year on dining out, we get $305,882.
Therefore, earning around $300,000 a year or more is the baseline amount I think is necessary to spend $500 a person on a meal. Using a 2%, 3%, and 4% divisor means a person would need a $7.5 – $15 million net worth.
Newsom has an annual salary of $210,000 as the Governor of California. However, I’m sure he earns way more than $100,000 a year in distributions from his PlumpJack Group business. Therefore, Newsom is good to go for dining at The French Laundry.
If you ask anybody who is willing to spend around $500 per person for a meal, they’ll clearly tell you that budgeting just $13,000 a year for restaurants is way too low. These folks are “foodies” through and through. One of their hobbies is to try every Top 25-rated restaurants in Zagats each year, multiple times a year.
The realistic fine diner is likely spending at least $2,000 a month on restaurants. The $2,000 a month consists of two dinners for $400 and two lunches for $100 on average a week. If we take the annual expenditure of $24,000 and divide it by 4.25%, we get $564,705.
Let’s also assume that a foodie is willing to spend 5% of his or her annual income a year on restaurants, not just 4.25% like the average American. If we take $24,000 and divide by 5%, we get $480,000.
Therefore, to eat at a place like The French Laundry, you really do need to be making a top 1% income. My intuition was correct!
Back in the good old days, when I didn’t have to pay for fine dining since I had a corporate card, I’d go out at least twice a week for a meal with clients. The corporate card had a limit of $200 per person and that felt like more than enough.
After about a year of going out to nice restaurants, my taste buds got used to the rich food. Instead of trying to maximize my $200 per person limit, I started trying to eat less food and more healthy items on the menu.
If you don’t have the most exciting guests or clients you want to get to know, then going out to an expensive restaurant can really be a chore.
I remember one time taking three hours to eat a 9-course meal with my wife at a restaurant called Michael Minna. It was our anniversary. I love my wife, but three hours was way too long.
We kept wondering where was the dang food after being served only portions large enough to feed a baby. We were used to eating in 45-minutes or less.
Nowadays, due to the pandemic, we enjoy ordering delivery. When we do, the average total cost per person for dinner is between $20-$30 per person. The most expensive items I usually order are sushi and prime rib.
We have every type of cuisine at our fingertips here in San Francisco. I’m talking Burmese food on Monday, Malaysian food on Tuesday, Japanese food on Wednesday, Italian food on Thursday, Vietnamese food on Friday, French food on Saturday, and American food on Sunday. But sadly, we are quite sick of almost everything.
Hedonic adaptation is real! Which is why finding joy in simpler things and basic foods may be the true secret to gastronomic happiness. Come to think of it, I could happily eat buttered corn and all types of fruit every day.
If you end up going to The French Laundry, make sure you get home by 10 pm. Newsom has issued strict curfew orders for California residents for the next month. But if you are able to eat with Newsom and his crew, feel free to party until the cows come home!
If You Want To Be As Rich As Powerful As Gavin Newsom, Don’t Bother Cooking Your Own Food To Save Money
Be Rich, Not Famous: The Joy Of Being A Nobody
Readers, what’s the most expensive meal you’ve ever spent per person? How much do you think you need to earn or be worth to spend $500 per person on a meal?