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August 24, 2009

Should bars list prices on their fancy cocktail menus?

martiniSun food queen Elizabeth Large tackled an interesting tale of cloaked drink prices and tall glass orders a couple days ago.

If you haven't seen the piece, definitely check it out.

I've always had a problem with bars and restaurants that don't list the price of their drinks. Correct me if I'm wrong here, but I think I know what their thought process is: If you're coming to such a fancy spot, price shouldn't be a worry. You should just be able to pay for whatever we charge you.

I don't think so.

When I'm at a lounge or a club -- no matter how fancy it is -- and I see their drink menu, I want to know how much stuff costs. To me, price and menu go hand-in-hand.

If I'm really not worried about price, I'll just order something off the cuff, say, a Bombay and tonic or a bottle of Dom Perignon. 

But if I ask to see the drink menu, or if there is one just chilling on the table, I want to know how much things cost ...

And yes, I know, it's not a big deal to ask how much something costs on the menu if the price isn't listed.

On the other hand, how many servers know exactly how much each cocktail costs off the cuff? Usually what happens is, they have to check with the bar manager -- an ordeal that, depending on how busy the place is, can take quite a while.

And yes I know, if you're ordering a martini, chances are it's going to cost somewhere around $10. But what if you unknowingly order a martini that costs $20? That's a pretty big difference. 

Bottom line: Put the prices on the drink menu, please.

(LA Times photo by Con Keyes)

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Posted by Sam Sessa at 9:24 AM | | Comments (9)
Categories: Bars & Clubs


My mom always says that if you have to ask how much something costs, you can't afford it. Which kinda bums me out, because by that measure I can't afford much these days, haha.

(1) the drink in question (bacardi and diet coke) wasn't a fancy cocktail. no place lists the prices for every possible iteration of mixed drinks. very few places list prices for liquor by the shot.
(2) if this girl's tab was $125 after tax, then she only spent $70.50 on these 7 bacardi and diets, not $84. (tax=$7.50, food=$32, beer=$15)
(3) in all likelihood, this was an honest mistake. was a "tall" drink ordered? or was it a "big" drink vs a "small" drink? in any case, after the $12.50 discount, she received 14 servings of Bacardi for $58. i find it hard to sympathize with her "plight".

They should absolutely list the prices; I wish more bars would post their beer prices, too. Obviously they're not going to be as outrageous as the cocktails, but why should someplace like Max's with an extensive beer menu be the only place where I know what I'm paying ahead of time?

Speaking of beer, it seems like you've started something with the watermelon beer - Pub Dog, Red Brick, and now these guys from SF...

I don't pay for anything until I know the price. Period. If I had unlimited funds, that wouldn't be a problem. I also think customers don't like to ask the price because they think they come off of as cheap.

They should have a price list. Discovery of costly or recently increased prices upon the arrival of the bill isn't a surprise that encourages repeat business or generous tipping above 15%, if*.
People are currently are watch cost and people I know work in various eateries say the volume of customers is down. Brillant move to antagonize those who are still coming.

* save your comments, life often isn't fair to this most convenient target.

One warning sign: There are, indeed, places that will adjust prices according to the time of day, day of the week, whether a band is playing, etc. I'm not talking "happy hour" necessarily; I'm talking places where the management hits a button on the register computers the second the band starts tuning up or the football game starts, and the prices go up 20%, or places that are happy to gouge the clueless weekend crowds. Furthermore, some places are rather poor at "advertising" their specials on Tuesdays, "Ladies' night," etc. so that a drink that may cost $6 may be $5 on Tuesdays or $8 during a weekend game.

I frankly don't object to a business covering its costs or seizing an opportunity to make more money; I simply ask for transparency across the board, such as mentioning happy hour so someone doesn't get sticker shock when the first beer costs $3 and the second one $4.50 or whatever.

I was at the Hofbrau Beer Garden yesterday.

It was good to see the prices on their menu, $7 for a half-liter of their house light (as opposed to dark) is kinda steep. But its really good beer.

There's also the issue of ordering by name. Some bars will automatically jack the price if you ask for a certain brand by name.
I always ask what the rail (rum, whiskey, whatever) is before ordering. It may turn out to be my brand of choice.
A "rum & coke" is often cheaper than a "Bacardi & Coke", even if both would have used the same Bacardi.

I've been around the world from Hawaii, all the way east to Russia, and for the first time, I cam across a drinks menu locally that had no prices. Of course, the waiter did not know but checked for me and stated the martini menu prices at Happy Hour wwere around $7 and could be more depending on the drink.
To me it's a way to make more money. People are too shy to ask, think they can't, but do you go buy a pair of shoes, a comb, a house, or a car without knowing the prices? My decision on the martinis was a big NO. So they lost on me. I'm 64 and have seen it all; and no prices takes the cake. And that phrase "if you have to ask you can't afford it" must've been written by a restaurant or bar owner to intimidate customers. No prices, I don't buy.

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About Erik Maza
Erik Maza is a features reporter at the Baltimore Sun. He writes for several sections of the Sun paper and contributes weekly columns on music and nightlife. He also writes and edits the Midnight Sun blog. He often covers entertainment, business, and the business of entertainment. Occasionally, he writes about Four Loko, The Block, the liquor board, and those who practice "simulated sex with a potted palm tree." Before The Sun, he was a reporter at the Miami New Times. He's also written for Miami magazine, the Orlando Sentinel, the Sarasota Herald Tribune and the Gainesville Sun. Got tips? Gripes? Pitches? He's reachable at Click here to keep up with the dumb music he's listening to.

Midnight Sun covers Baltimore music, live entertainment, and nightlife news. On the blog, you'll find, among other things, concert announcements, breaking news, bars closings and openings, up-to-date coverage of crime in nightlife, new music, round-the-clock coverage of Virgin Mobile FreeFest, handy guides on bars staying open past 2 a.m. on New Year's Eve and those that carry Natty Boh on draft. Recurring features include seven-day nightlife guides, Concert News, guest reviews of bars and concerts, Wednesday Corkboard, and photo galleries, as well as reader-submitted photos. Thanks for reading.

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