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Benu Raises Prices for Second Time in 2015 Amid Rising Minimum Wage

The three Michelin starred restaurant raised dinner prices by $20 to $248.

As San Francisco's hourly minimum continues to inch toward $15, one of the city's most expensive restaurants has raised prices for the second time this year. The three Michelin-starred Benu in SOMA, which had been charging $198 for the nightly tasting before raising its price to $228 in February, is now selling that menu, the only offering at dinner, for $248. The suggested beverage pairing price has also risen by $25, to $185.

"It's the price needed to be viable right now and in the near future," chef Corey Lee wrote in an email earlier this week. Before San Francisco's minimum rose from $10.74 to $11.05 in January, Lee told this reporter that he'd have hike his prices. "If we just absorb all the increases that are happening in 2015, the numbers simply won't work," Lee said in November. The city's minimum rose again to $12.25 in May, and will continue to increase every July until it hits $15 in 2018.

So a fully loaded dinner date for two at Benu, inclusive of optional wine pairings, tax, and 20 percent service, will now cost $1,130, compared with $934 earlier in 2015, which means guests are now paying over $200 more than they would've a little over half a year ago.

Other SF restaurants have changed their pricing models as well amid the city's rising minimum wage. The two-Michelin-starred Atelier Crenn raised its entry-level price to $220 in January and instituted a service charge, while Saison switched over to offering a single menu throughout the week for $398, up from its earlier starting price of $248 (Saison still serves more affordable menus upon request). Quince, which holds two Michelin stars, raised its prices to $198.

A study by UC Berkely's Labor Center forecast a 3 percent increase in restaurant operating costs and a 2.7 percent increase in prices by the time the $15 minimum was fully implemented. Benu's prices have risen by 27 percent since the beginning of 2015, but restaurants of course face other cost pressures besides legally-mandated wages. Consumer egg prices are up about 22 percent over last June, while beef prices are up 11 percent. And as restaurant matures, owners must pay top kitchen staffers higher wages to retain that talent.


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