Why lobster is still the priciest item on the menu. . . even though the cost has actually DROPPED to just $2.20 a pound
Thanks to an abundant harvest this year, the cost of lobster has dropped to just $2.20 per pound, as compared to $6.00 in 2005 – so why have restaurants kept the price high?
According to the New Yorker, there are certain psychological factors involved – like the fact that we think of lobster as a luxury item, not a commodity.
Since we therefore associate lobster with a high price, lowering the cost of it at a restaurant would actually make us less likely to buy it, because we tend to assume a cheaper lobster is inferior.
The Gothamist points out, however, that even though Maine fishermen are catching more lobsters than ever, they are soft-shelled ones, which are less meaty and harder to transport.
So while lobster in general costs less this month, it is still expensive for restaurants to buy, since those with soft shells often don’t leave the city where they were fished.
What’s more, Grub Street adds that restaurants have to account for the shipping, storing, shelling and preparing of the whole lobster, adding to the overall cost.
In Canada, on the other hand, hard-shelled crabs are on the rise and in high demand.
Indeed, the crustacean is so prevalent in Canada these days that McDonald’s have added lobster rolls to their menu in Ontario, for $6.79 a roll.
In any case, the recent overabundance, which some say is due to global warming, has seen the cost of lobster drop steadily over the past few years.
Some maintain that restaurants choose to keep the price high for psychological reasons, in part because a costly lobster makes other seafood items on the menu look reasonable.
At Pearl Oyster Bar in New York, for example, a 1.5lb Maine lobster costs $36, and a pan roasted halibut costs $27.
Another reason they might choose not to lower the cost at restaurants is because of the fluctuating harvest from year to year – if the harvest were bad next summer, customers might not want to buy more expensive lobster when they had gotten used to a cheaper one.
Indeed, studies have shown that our culinary preferences are more psychological than we might think.
When drinking wine in a blind test, for instance, people tend to prefer inexpensive bottles, but they get more pleasure from drinking wine which they believe is pricier.
The same apparently goes for lobster.
In fact, lobster was actually seen as a low-class food in Colonial New England because it was so prevalent, but over-farming and depopulation ultimately led to it being associated with the wealthy, who could afford it.
Today, to handle the lobster surplus while maintaining its image as a luxury food, restaurants are also strategically adding them to low-cost dishes like macaroni and cheese or lobster bisque, while keeping the price of a whole lobster the same.