Restaurant prices in the 19th century (followed by 20th, below)
Note: Until the mid-19th century prices were often quoted in shillings and pence, or in Spanish dollars. One Spanish bit = 12½¢; One penny (1d) = 1¢; One shilling (1s) = 12d, or 12¢. At all times, a fixed-price dinner costs less than ordering a la carte.
1833 A cheap NYC eating house on Maiden Lane: “The charge for a plate of fish, for a plate of roasted turkey, with a slice of ham, with vegetables, potatoes, beans, &c. and a plumb-pudding, or peach-pie, or apple-pie, is exactly one shilling Sterling.”
1834 At a cheap eating house in Baltimore, for a price the diner considers “very moderate”: “I got my dinner there today for 15¾ cents; and it consisted of a plate of roast turkey, and vegetables, and an excellent tart …”
1838 The Rainbow, a NYC chop house: Beef Steak (25¢), Mutton Chops (18½¢), Welsh Rarebit (Ale included) (12½¢), Poached Eggs (12½¢), Sandwiches (6½¢).
1844 The Café Tortoni, NYC, for an “A-1 French family dinner”: Soup, Boiled Beef, Oyster Plants, Sheepshead, Stewed Beef with Macaroni, Roast Leg of Mutton, Salad, and “different sorts of vegetables,” followed by sweets, all for 50¢ (not including wine).
1845 Milliken’s Beefsteak & Coffee Room, a cheap “six-penny eating house” in NYC: Roast Beef, Lamb, or Veal (6d), Sirloin Steak, Boiled Salmon, or Fried Trout (1s), Cocoa Nut, Custard, Plum, Peach, Mince, Apple, Indian, or Rice Pie (3d).
1849 Sky high “gold rush” prices at a fashionable eating house in San Francisco: Corned Beef & Cabbage (1.25), Sweet Potatoes (50¢), Apple Pie (75¢).
1849 Sweeny’s House of Refreshments, another six-penny house in NYC: Corned Beef (6d), Ham & Eggs (1s/6d), Puddings and Pies (6d).
1850 Carr’s Eating House, a six-penny place in Boston: Roast Turkey (15¢), Roast Chicken (12½¢), Roast Pork, Veal, Lamb, or Beef (6 ¼ ¢), Broiled Beef Steak (6 ¼ ¢).
1855 Those eating their mid-day dinner at Van Doren’s Commercial Oyster & Dining Saloon in Jersey City NJ can order a Plain Omelette for 12 ½ cents or, if they are feeling rich, a whole Broiled Chicken for 62 ½ cents. Vegetables available in March are Potatoes, Turnips, Celery, or Cabbage, each 6 ½ cents.
1860 The Globe, Salt Lake City: Porter House Steak (25¢), Ham & Eggs (37½¢), Bowl of Oyster Soup (1.00).
1865 The Pioneer Restaurant, Portland OR: Porter House Steak (20¢), Sirloin Steak (15¢), Ham & Eggs (25¢), Apple, Prune, or Pear Sauce (5¢), Cranberry, Apple, or Custard Pie (5¢).
1866 At a Cincinnati coffee house sponsored by the Y.M.C.A.:
1876 Shorey’s, Haymarket Square, Boston: “Famous Boiled Dinner” (25¢), Soups (10¢), Chowders (10¢), Stews with Dumplings (15¢), Roast Beef (25¢), Sirloin Steak (35¢), Chicken Pie (25¢).
1877 “Cook’s Substantial Dinner,” Boston: 40¢ for a meal including Soups, Chowders, Fish, Meats, Poultry, Sauce, Vegetables, Puddings, Pies, Tea, Coffee, and Dessert. “No extra charges for second orders.”
1885 A cheap French restaurant in New Orleans: Soup (10¢), “Gombo” (15¢), four “Croakers” (20¢), Broiled Sheep Head (35¢), Roast Mutton (15¢), Stew (15¢), Custard or Pudding (10¢).
1885 Brooklyn: “In most restaurants the charge for a dinner of roast meat, with bread and vegetables, is 15 cents … Two eggs, fried or boiled, accompanied by the invariable boiled potato, fetch from 10 to 15 cents; steak 15 cents; sirloin, 25 cents; plain omelet, 25 cents; tea or coffee, 5 cents; pies and puddings from 5 to 10 cents.”
1888 Rock-bottom prices at the New York Kitchen in Chicago: Small Beefsteak, Pork Chop, Ham, Liver & Bacon, Oatmeal & Milk, One-third of a Pie, Large Wheat Cakes with butter and syrup, Ham & Beans – each 5¢.
1893 French table d’hôte dinners in NYC “cost usually 50 cents and consist of relishes, soup, fish with potatoes, something like chicken fricassee, vegetables, a roast dish, lettuce salad, French pancakes, fruit and cheese, and coffee, along with a pint of California claret.”
1894 The Louvre Saloon Chop House, Woodland CA: “Original Clam Chowder, with the Largest Glass of Beer for the sum of 10 cents. Egg Salad Served with Every Meal, Free. Ham and 4 eggs with beer or coffee (25¢), Oysters in every style with beer or coffee (25¢).”
1897 Sunday dinner at The American House, Telluride CO: 50¢ for a 10-course meal which includes Caviar on Toast, Sliced Tomatoes, Broiled Salmon, Tenderloin of Beef aux Champignons, Coffee Jelly with Whipped Cream, and three wines (Niersteiner, Burgundy, Zinfandel).
1899 Sunday table d’hôte dinner at Café Boulevard, NYC: 75¢ dinner includes Blue Points, Consomme, Cold Salmon with Sauce Tartar, Sweetbread Patties, Long Island Duck, Spinach, Escarole Salad, Kaiser Pudding with Wine Sauce, Demi-Tasse.
Prices in the 20th century
1903 At The Palace or Johnny’s Place in Salt Lake City 10¢ buys a dinner of meat, vegetables, bread, butter and a cup of tea or coffee.
1906 “Poor Man’s Dinner” in Washington D.C.: 15¢ for Vegetable Soup, Country Sausage, Bread, and Coffee. “Rich Man’s Dinner”: $16.30 for Martini Cocktail, Lynnhaven Oysters, Celery, Stuffed Olives, Green Turtle Soup, Terrapin, Champagne, Canvasback Duck, Mushrooms in Cream, French Asparagus, French Peas, Squash, Appolinaris, Tutti Frutti Ice Cream, Assorted Cakes, Cordial, Camembert Cheese, and Café Ture.
1910 The Serveself Lunch, Majestic Building, Detroit: Few items are more than 10¢, including Soup, Corned Beef Hash, Pork & Beans, Macaroni & Cheese, Chicken Pie, Boiled Eggs, Sandwiches, Corn Flakes, Baked Apples, Griddle Cakes, or Pastry.
1912 A typical restaurant in San Francisco’s Little Italy: 50¢ for Soup, Fish, Entrée, Roast, Salad, Dessert, Fruit and a Demi-Tasse. “Here you get Italian pastes in perfection, ravioli, tagliarini, spaghetti, or green lasagne, and tempting fritto misto, each delicately fried tiny roll of batter containing a different surprise – an artichoke heart, a piece of chicken liver, a bit of brains, or some other tidbit. For dessert, zabaione and fried cream are their specialties.”
1914 Boulevard Café, Chicago: “Sunday Table d’Hôte consisting of Shell Oysters, Fish, Choice of Fowl, Filet of Beef, Fresh Vegetables, Strawberries, Cheese and Coffee, including full pint best California Claret, 75¢.”
1915 Frederick MD: “Light Lunches at Dutrow’s. Sandwiches, 5 to 15 cents; Chicken Noodle Soup, 10 cents; Pie, 5 cents; Coffee, 5 cents; Cocoa, 5 cents.”
1915 Concert and dinner at Allaire’s Scheffel Hall, NYC: 50¢ for dinner of Oysters, Bisque of Lobster, Baked Bluefish, Tenderloin of Beef with Mushroom Sauce & Green Peas, Baked Apple, Demi-Tasse.
1917 On August 27 a thrifty diner can order a complete dinner of Old Fashion Bean Soup, Roll & Butter, Hungarian Beef Goulash with Mashed Potatoes, Stewed Celery, and Cole Slaw, Cocoanut Pie, and Demi Tasse for only 50 cents at Green’s Restaurant in Philadelphia. Served a la carte, Beef Goulash alone costs 50 cents, but undoubtedly it is a larger portion.
1921 Advertisement, Littleton CO: “When in town Eat at The Home Café. Regular Dinner 35¢ and 40¢. Choice of 3 meats, soup, potatoes, 1 side dish, pudding, coffee or milk. Best coffee in the city 5¢ per cup. Try our regular Sunday chicken dinner, 60¢.”
1921 Huyler’s Tea Room, Fifth Avenue, NYC: Chicken Hash with Poached Egg, 85¢; Creamed Cheese and Chopped Walnut Sandwich, 40¢; Special Blend Coffee with Cream, 20¢.
1922 Cooper’s Cafeteria, Champaign IL: “Special 10 Cents, Saturday: Veal Loaf with Tomato Sauce – Sunday: Creamed Chicken on Toast – Every Day: Potatoes, mashed, fried or French fried, 5¢; Apple pie, 5¢; Potato or cabbage salad, 5¢; Second cup of coffee free.”
1923 De Croes’ French Restaurant, Indianapolis: “Delicious tee-bone steak. French fried potatoes, salad, hot biscuits and syrup, tea or coffee, all for 40 cents.”
1929 Alice Foote MacDougall’s Cortile, NYC: Chicken a la King, $1.00; Fresh Pear stuffed with Cream Cheese and Nut, 75¢; Hearts of Lettuce with French Dressing, 50¢.
1930 A survey by the U.S. federal government determines that 38 cents is the average amount paid for lunch in big city commercial eating places across America.
1931 Schrafft’s, Flatbush Ave., NYC: Special Green Vegetable Dinner, 75¢; Minute Steak, $1.25; Chicken Salad, Home Style, 90¢.
1932 Pig ‘n Whistle, Los Angeles: 75¢ businessman’s lunch of Charcoal Broiled French Lamb Chops, New Peas, French Fried Potatoes, Fruit Salad, Hot Biscuits, and Coffee, Tea, Milk, or Tomato Juice.
1934 On its August 15 menu Mary Elizabeth’s, a tea room on Fifth Avenue at 36th Street in New York City, offers a Tropical Chicken special with Orange Sections, Pineapple Hollandaise, and New Green Peas for $1.10. A Cream Cheese and Jelly Sandwich is 30 cents, while Iced Watermelon is 20 cents.
1937 Toffenetti’s Triangle Restaurant in the Chicago Loop: “…lean, savory, juicy Hamburger sandwich, With a white crisp slice of Bermuda onion, With a beautiful slice of tomato, With a dessert, With a beverage … All for only 30¢.”
1944 The Milan Cafeteria in San Antonio TX calls itself the home of “Old Fashioned Foods.” Thursday is Family Day with a steamtable of choices such as Roast Chicken with Cornbread Dressing (40 cents), Peas in Butter (15 cents), or a Tomato Stuffed with Shrimp Salad (23 cents).
1946 Evening Dinner on May 31 at the Bookshop Tearoom, Springfield MA, 65c for appetizer, entree, two vegetables, rolls, beverage, and dessert. The entree choices are: Broiled Fresh Halibut, Grilled Boneless Ham, Broiled Fresh Mackerel, Salmon and Celery Salad, or Chicken Fricassee in Pattie Shell. The light eater could choose a Marshmallow and Peanut Butter Sandwich for 15c.
1947 Trefner’s, 619 Lexington at 53rd, NYC, a moderately priced restaurant with long-time patrons: “First there is fruit juice, then a choice of two soups. The main courses are fried chicken, steaks or some kind of fish. The chicken, which is $1, is one of the specialties of the house. Another is Hungarian goulash for 95 cents.”
1949 Jack Tar Grill, in a Galveston TX motor court, open 24 hours: Steaming Hot Casserole of Home-Made Chicken and Dumplings, Hot Rolls, 55¢; Hot Casserole of Ming Toy Chop Suey with Steamed Rice, Hot Rolls, 75¢.
1951 Curly’s Chesterfield Club, Waterloo IA: Sunday Dinner, All You Can Eat, $1.50 – Fried Chicken served family style, with Tomato Juice, Shrimp or Fruit Cocktail, Relish Dish, Salad Bowl, Hot Biscuit, Mashed Potatoes, Cream Gravy, String Beans, Pie or Ice Cream, choice of drink (i.e., non-alcoholic beverage).
1952 Robin Hood Cafeteria, Corpus Christi TX: Meat Loaf with Tomato Sauce, 34¢; Snap Blackeyed Peas and Salt Pork, 15¢; Plain, Fruit or Nut Jello, 9¢.
1956 Sunday dinner at the Covered Wagon, Chicago: Prime Rib U.S. Choice Beef, $2.75, Roast Sirloin of Beef, $1.95, Seafoods, $1.85 to $3.00, Bar-B-Q Ribs, Fried Chicken, $2.25, Steaks from $3.00; served with Relish Tray, Baked Potato, Salad, Dessert, Soup, Vegetable, Beverage, Homemade Hot Rolls.
1960 Furr’s Cafeteria, Hobbs NM: Roast Loin of Pork with Candied Yams and Brown Gravy, 55¢; Apple Cabbage Slaw, 12¢; Chocolate Cream Pie, 15¢. — At the Valley Ho restaurant in Van Nuys CA $1.70 buys a chicken dinner (pictured above).
1961 The Quail, a “Gourmet Roadhouse” in N. Hollywood CA: “Filet Mignon Steak Dinner – 2 for 1 Price, Pay $3.75, 2nd One Free – Soup or Large Salad, Baked Potato, Sour Cream and Chives, Vegetable, Filet Mignon (charbroiled), Bread and Butter.”
1962 Le Pavillon, NYC, is considered the best restaurant in America. Daily luncheon special: $7.50 per person.
1966 Christmas dinner at The Flamingo Prime Rib Room, Tucson: $2.25 for Roast Oregon Tom Turkey, Sage Dressing, Giblet Gravy, Fresh Cranberry Sauce, Christmas Salad or Chicken Gumbo Soup, Sweet Potatoes Soufflé, Whipped Potatoes, Brandy Sauce, Black Bottom Rum Pie, Hot Apple Pie with Melted Cheese, Coffee, Tea, or Milk.
1966 The Three Fountains, a pricey St. Louis restaurant: French Onion Soup, 50¢; Beef Stroganoff, $5.00; Chateaubriand for two, $14.00; Caesar Salad for two, $3.00; Cherries Jubilee for two, $3.50.
1970 The H&H Cafe, a soulfood restaurant on Chicago’s South Side: Breakfast served around the clock, $1.10 for two scrambled eggs and grits (or rice), an order of brains, and two buttermilk biscuits.
1971 Valley Squire, Van Nuys CA: “Gourmet Dinners for Two – 2 Lobster Brochette Dinners or 2 Filet Mignon Dinners or 2 Tournedos of Beef Dinners or 2 Prime Rib Dinners $7.25 Per Couple – Includes: Soup or salad, from our salad bar, Entree, potato, vegetable, hot bread PLUS Complimentary Wine.”
1974 Dohack’s in a suburb of St. Louis MO offers a carry-out menu with Bar B-Q Ribs accompanied by French Fries, Cole Slaw, and Bread for $2.90. A Large Chef Salad costs $1.75, and Onion Rings are 60 cents.
1976 The Aware Inn, a health food restaurant in West Hollywood: Chinese Salad with bean spouts, scallions, cucumber, green peppers, tomatoes and almonds in a tamarind-sesame oil dressing, $3.95; Chocolate Cream Supreme, $2.00.
1981 The chain restaurant TGI Friday’s charges $2.95 for its Plain Potato Skins appetizer, which comes with sour cream and chives for dipping, but $5.20 for Loaded Potato Skins which arrive with cheddar cheese and crumbled bacon.
1982 At The Old Spaghetti Factory, a chain restaurant popular with families, a spaghetti dinner runs from $1.95 for Spaghetti with Plain Tomato Sauce, up to $2.25 with Mushroom Sauce. The dinners come with green salad, sourdough bread with garlic butter, coffee, tea, or milk, and spumoni ice cream. A glass of wine (Mountain Burgundy, Rosé, or Chablis) costs 40 cents.
1982 Los Angeles’ Spago turns down 300 reservations a day, according to chef Wolfgang Puck. Specializing in pizza, it is a fashionable spot for celebrities. With lower prices than other “in” restaurants, dinner checks average about $30 with wine.
1987 A booklet of recommended restaurants put out by the San Francisco Chronicle advises that an inexpensive restaurant in that city is one that charges $10 or under for a meal, while a moderate-priced restaurant charges up to $25 and an expensive restaurant charges over $25. However, at a top restaurant such as Masa’s in San Francisco a fixed-price meal runs $48 (almost certainly excluding drinks and tip), while diners at Berkeley’s innovative Chez Panisse can expect to pay at least $45.