Diners willing to pay for meal of a lifetime, according to Michelin survey and Louisville chefs

Ahi tuna in coconut at Seviche, A Latin Restaurant | Photo courtesy of Seviche

Diners are willing to pay a pretty penny for high-quality food, according to a Michelin study and anecdotal comments from Louisville chefs.

A recent Michelin study found that depending on geography, age and gender, U.S. consumers were willing to spend anywhere from $122 to $352 on a “once-in-a-lifetime dining experience.”

Michelin is the same tire company that awards its coveted stars to restaurants around the world. It’s the type of culinary validation that chefs (or at least one chef) cry over.

In Louisville, the restaurant scene has exploded in the last decade, and chefs and restaurateurs have noticed an increasing willingness among local consumers to shell out more money for quality food and service.

“Definitely, I see people dining out more. I think people are more into food than they ever have been,” said chef Anthony Lamas, owner of Seviche, A Latin Restaurant. “There is something magical about it.”

Lamas referred to dinner out as entertainment that “stimulat(es) the senses.”

People are viewing their meals as an experience versus simply a way to satiate their rumbling stomachs, said Josh Bettis, executive chef at The Brown Hotel.

Dinner is the show, and there are customers who don’t bat “an eye at $52 for a entree,” Bettis said.

The English Grill inside The Brown Hotel

The English Grill inside The Brown Hotel

Millennials in particular are willing to dish out more money for a dining experience. The Michelin study found that on average, people ages 18 to 34 would pay $282 for the ultimate dining experience, while diners 45 years old or older said they would pay $170 or less on average.

“I think it’s their generation,” Bettis said, noting that The Brown Hotel’s typical customer ranges in age from mid-30s to 50s. “They are not really concerned about the nest egg right away.”

Of course, Louisville also has diners who want quality food at a good price, said chef John Varanese, owner of Varanese and the forthcoming concepts River House Restaurant and Raw Bar, and Levee at the River House.

“There’s just a fine line,” Varanese said. “People still look for the value.”

Louisville has a low cost of living, so there is a ceiling to what residents are willing to pay for food, Varanese said. Cities and states with higher costs of living can charge more, which may be why the Michelin study notes that residents out West said they would pay more than double what people living in the Midwest and South would pay for a once-in-a-lifetime meal.

However, how much someone is willing to spend also depends on another factor, according to Varanese.

“Part of the question is can you get it anywhere, anytime,” he said, noting that he can sell 60 Kobe steaks when offering them as part of a $100 semi-annual dinner event. However, he added that he wouldn’t likely be able to fetch that price if Kobe steaks were a regular item on the menu.

With an average check of $51 per person, it is crucial that Seviche provide food and service that is worth the price, Lamas said, stating that he’s eaten as restaurants run by world-renowned chefs before and left disappointed.

“I’ve heard people say ‘We don’t get there much it’s expensive.’ Yes, we are,” he said. But “we have built that reputation that people know they are going to come in and get this very beautiful seafood.”