Monday, June 2, 2008

The $175 hamburger

The Wall Street Burger Shoppe is hawking a $175 hamburger. Shock and horror has ensued.

First of all, this is clearly a publicity stunt. You can tell because it generates publicity. There are a number of restaurants in major cities where $200 a plate is pretty standard. In general, an expensive meal comprised of Kobe beef, foies gras and truffles would not raise a whole lot of notice.

But if you put it on a brioche bun and call it a burger, the obscenity and excess of extravagant dining is somehow magnified. Of course, that might just be the attraction for the people who will order this thing.

In New York, there is a high concentration of lawyers, consultants and bankers making hundreds of thousands per year, and a fair number of hedge fund and private equity managers who make millions, tens of millions, or even billions at the high end.

And many of the people eating these meals don’t end up carrying the tab, because there are lots of financial transactions that take place over ritzy expense-account lunches and dinners.

Job interviews, deal-closing dinners, performance incentives, deal pitches, celebrations of quarterly earnings, and various other events all trigger expensive restaurant trips on corporate accounts.

Blowing $1500 on dinner for four or five people seems a lot less excessive if it's part of a pitch that wins your company a deal worth millions. Networking in the financial industry can mean big bucks, and rich entertainment budgets for Kobe steaks and $300 bottles of wine are part of how deals get made in the financial industry.

There are also plenty of tourists who are willing to spend money to experience high-end restaurants, plenty of people who want to celebrate major life events or rich bonuses in high style, and people who are just so rich that their wealth will earn more than the cost of the $175 burger while they sit there eating it.

Incidentally, my favorite excessive NYC burger is the ribeye burger at Rare. A comparative bargain at $21.

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