Until recently, Masa and Urasawa were the only two major American restaurants where dinner for two, before wine, would almost inevitably cost over $1,000. But now, it looks like another pricey is trying to join that club, on the weekends at least. Saison by Joshua Skenes, San Francisco's most expensive culinary establishment, is now telling guests who book tables on Fridays or Saturdays that the tasting menu is $398 per person. So a meal for two, after tax and 20 percent tip, will cost $1,025 on the weekends. L'chaim.
Equally important: While booking an anonymous reservation last week, a receptionist told this reporter that any cancellations made within seven days before dinner would be subject to a $398 fee.
To some observers, Saison's weekend focus on the 22-course discovery menu will constitute a $150 PRICE HIKE over the shorter $248 tasting that's more actively offered on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. Wine pairings, incidentally, are now $298 for the discovery menu, up from the old price of $248, an increase that was made "to match the breadth of the selections to the lengthier menu." So your fully-loaded weekend diner date will now run you $1,792.
Saison, per usual, would characterize things differently. The three Michelin-starred venue says it still offers the shorter $248 menu on the weekends, though telephone reservationists don't typically mention that more affordable "upon request" option unless they're specifically asked about it. The restaurant says about 25 percent of diners order the $248 option on weekends. When asked for a copy of the Discovery menu with pairings, Saison replied "There is no static menu, it changes everyday." The restaurant also removed the price of the dinner menu from its website.
Why does Saison emphasize its more expensive menu on the weekends? Here's what a representative for the restaurant had to say via email: "Josh decided to highlight/focus on the Discovery Menu on weekends way back in September because they noticed that during the week, their guests skewed more towards business types who preferred the regular/abbreviated tasting menu. Guests who come in during the weekend are more inclined to have the lengthier menu, and in Josh's opinion, the Discovery Menu is a much better experience and showcases all that is best at the restaurant anyway."
Some comparative pricing notes: Christopher Kostow's The Restaurant at Meadowood offers a more expensive chef's counter menu at $500, service-included, with $350 wine pairings (gratuities are not included in the beverages). But that restaurant also actively encourages the ordering of its shorter, $225 menu throughout the week, and unlike Saison, it also publishes the price of both menus online. Saison, incidentally, used to offer an a la carte menu in its lounge, which included the restaurant's stunning brassicas soup. That menu is no longer offered. The restaurant does, however, offer a "split" wine pairing at $348, "usually for a couple who want to enjoy our pairings but don’t necessarily want to drink a large quantity of wine."
It's been a good year for Saison, which Michelin elevated, along with Benu, to three Michelin stars in October, making it one of four Bay Area restaurants with that honor. (The other two are Meadowood and The French Laundry.) In May, Eater critic Bill Addison called his dinner at Saison one of the "most expensive" and "most remarkable" meals of his life. And the San Francisco Chronicle's Michael Bauer upgraded the venue to four stars that same month, arguing that "Saison has grown up and has turned into a glorious restaurant." Such developments might mean Saison can exercise more pricing power than before.
San Francisco diners of all stripes stand to pay more for their meals in the coming months and years, as the minimum wage in the city will gradually rise from $10.74/hr in 2015 to $15/hr in 2018. California, along with six other states, doesn't have a tip credit, which means even waiters earn the full minimum, as opposed to the lower tipped minimum that falls as low as $2.13 in Wyoming, Alabama, New Jersey, and other states.
Will Saison raise its prices to compensate for higher labor costs? "It only makes sense, as it does in any field, that if the costs rise, so do prices," says a rep. "The team is still discussing, and we will let you know should any changes be implemented."