Dining Out

Broke Young People Will Always Have Paris

Paris has the highest minimum wage of any metropolis considered, the equivalent of $12.84 an hour. Berlin is in 2nd place with a minimum wage of $11.86 and Rome is third.

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Save Your Money, Stick to Wine

Fancy-shmancy restaurants serve fancy-shmancy cocktails full of ingredients you’ve never heard of, so that you will pay too much to get drunk on something gross and then, because you’re drunk, buy more and more expensive food and wine than you planned to and then, the next morning, wake up gout-y, dehydrated, and poor, wondering where it all went wrong. Don’t worry, the Times is on it:

a restaurant is way more likely to hand you a not-good drink than a bar that prides itself on cocktail conjuring. … restaurants have come to depend on these [cocktail] lists for extra revenue, which comes in two forms: the margin on the cocktails, and the extra cash that first drink of the evening may pry loose from a customer’s money clip.

“It’s an unspoken truth in the business,” said Eben Freeman, who used to superintend the bars operated by Mr. White’s Altamarea Group and recently moved to a similar job with AvroKo. “You’re hoping to get a cocktail sale in before they settle down with the wine list. The dark side is that they will drink the cocktail faster” than a glass of wine, he continued. “And it will affect their decision-making, and might cause them to get the steak for two. Or the more expensive bottle of wine.”

The only way to escape this endless, torturous loop is to stare down your server and decline the cocktail menu altogether. Stand strong, America! Only you can prevent Atomic Fireballs.

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The Cost of Things: Shake Shack Around the World

Danny Meyer’s take on better-than-average-burger-and-fries has gone global. Though the appeal of fast food is predictability and consistency, meals at Shack Shack still vary in cost. The trademark burger in the original Madison Square Park location “is now $4.95 at the flagship location, which is actually cheaper than the original inflation-adjusted price from the summer of 2004,” Eater.com explains. But what about the rest of the world? 

The world’s cheapest Shake Shack, in U.S. dollars, is in Moscow, where a burger, fries and a shake currently cost 495 rubles ($12.38). … The world’s most expensive Shake Shack — in US dollars — is at The Dubai International Airport, where a meal consisting of a burger, shake and fries would cost over $23. This is important because DXB is the world’s seventh busiest airport, with over 66 million passengers in 2013. And the in-house Shake Shack, located in Terminal 3 (the worlds largest building by floor space), is open 24/7. That means a whole lot of folks from around the world stand to have their first encounter with a Shake Shack at a very expensive Shake Shack.

To be fair, the DXB Shake Shack is a captive audience Shack, where a certain level of higher prices is anticipated. But just so we’re clear on how expensive it is, consider the following: A McDonald’s quarter pounder with cheese costs 12 AED at the Middle Eastern airport, which is 16 percent cheaper than the New York East Village price of $3.89. By comparison, Shake Shack’s 33 AED ($8.91) for a burger is about 80 percent higher than what it costs in NYC. That’s a heck of a markup. Still, this author would rather splurge on a Shack Burger if marooned here, rather than ingest the awfulness that is McDonald’s.

Other Middle Eastern and London locations also charge more, but who goes to those places to eat at Shake Shack? Especially in London, I’m sure there’s a local hamburger worth trying. Right? While in the Middle East you will eat your falafel and you will like it.

Photo: Niki Achitoff-Gray/Serious Eats

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Book It! Alumni: Get a Free Personal Pan Pizza

I know a lot of us on The Billfold are “readers of a certain age,” and many of us proudly spent our elementary school years reading books, affixing stickers to a huge, dorky button, and wearing our Book It! buttons to Pizza Hut so we could get our free Personal Pan Pizza.

Well, get ready to nostalgize so hard, because Book It! is offering alumni the opportunity to get a free Personal Pan Pizza once again—and you don’t even have to read anything.

Just go to the Book It! alumni site, enter your name, age, location, occupation, and former elementary school, and get your coupon. (I don’t know how quickly you’ll get your coupon; mine hasn’t shown up yet.) (UPDATE: I GOT IT.)

Mmmmm… Personal Pan Pizza. You got to choose your own topping (I always picked black olives), you didn’t have to share it with anyone, and your whole family got to go to Pizza Hut because of you. It was a genius scheme, and I can hardly wait to taste that sweet, greasy Personal Pan flavor again.

Photo: Marco

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Visiting Hogwarts When You’re Broke

Yeah, I paid $31.12 for an enchanted (discounted) piece of plastic. But *it* chose *me.*

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Quitting in a Blaze of Glory, NYC Waitress Edition

A waitress’s open letter to the oh-so-seductive customer who manhandled her has gone viral. I should excerpt it but the whole thing is so fantastic, I’m reprinting it here in full:

Dear Brian, You came into the restaurant where I work and ordered a Stoli on the rocks. When I asked you and your companion if you’d be eating, or needing anything else from me, you put your hand – ever so gently – ON MY ASS and asked if you could take me “to go”. When I immediately stepped away and said “Sorry, what?” you probably gathered that I was and am not receptive of such advances from customers. We were in a family-friendly restaurant, around 6:30pm, and I was wearing a loose-fitting, long sleeve shirt, jeans, and no makeup…so I’m not sure where the confusion arose as to what kind of service you were being provided. You left soon after, leaving a signed credit card slip and a two dollar tip (see picture included!). Your name is Brian Lederman. I found you, instantly, via a quick Google search online. I looked at your face on Linked In, the World’s Largest Professional Network. You work at Swiss Performance Management and Truehand AG, in Investment Management. Of course you do. 

I work as a bartender, and have for more than five years now. I graduated NYU with honors, and have at some point held down every conceivable part time type job including but not limited to food service, administration, and even temp work at firms such as yours. So far, bartending allows me the most flexibility to pursue my artistic career, while comfortably covering my basic living expenses, including my outrageously high student loan payments. I have a good job that I’m grateful for. The environment is low key, I have incredibly supportive coworkers and managers, and – in general – the clientele is nice. But I still hate being a bartender. 

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My Last $100: Turning 24 Like a Boss

I turned 24 last Tuesday, which (I think) means that I am no longer in my early twenties so I should probably stop shopping at Forever 21 and eating beef jerky for breakfast.

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The Best Things in Life Are Free (Food)

It isn’t until I am actually standing in front of the dumpster that I begin to understand what we’re doing.

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Amusement Park Tally: What It Cost, What It Was Worth

As promised, my little family hit up Coney Island this weekend for some sun, fun, and bruising brought on by the Cyclone, one of America’s oldest and ricketiest wooden roller coasters. Here’s what we spent and an analysis of whether each purchase was justified:

+ NYAquarium tickets

COST: $24 for two adults. Babygirl got in free.

WORTH IT?: Mostly. Did you know there are penguins in South Africa? Warm weather “jackass” penguins! They are small and adorable; in the water, swimming, they resemble ducks.

The aquarium is pretty small. A good chunk is still under construction, post-Sandy. Babygirl enjoyed trying to catch the tiny, iridescent fish in the tanks and was less enthusiastic about the sea lion show: she shrieked in terror at the sight of their sleek, monstrous bodies emerging from the water to clap their fins. Overall, it was a fun family outing, though I wouldn’t rush to do it again.

+ One Cyclone ride

COST: $9

WORTH IT: Ben emerged battered and hoarse with a huge grin on his face. Unequivocal yes, says he.

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Link Round-up! Cheap Hotel Rooms, Egg Sandwiches, Commutes

+ How do you get the cheapest good hotel room? Go through an exhaustive 7-step process that involves several different websites and Skype. (“It gets easier with practice!”) If you’re feeling more like satisfising rather than maximizing and you’re okay getting a pretty cheap, pretty good room, though, even following one or two of the steps will net useful results. Like this one:

If you’ve already booked a flight, or are going on a longer, more complicated trip, package deals won’t work. But this straightforward, in-and-out New York-to-Paris trip is exactly the sort where a package deal might be the trick. (Trips to sunny destinations in the winter also work pretty well.) I went to Kayak’s packages page and it led me to a promising deal on Priceline.com: a round-trip, nonstop flight for two from New York to Paris, plus four nights at the Crowne Plaza Paris-Republique, for $2,505. The cheapest nonstop fare on my dates was $2,503. In other words, four nights at the four-star Crowne Plaza would essentially cost 50 cents a night. I even contacted Priceline to make sure there were no hidden charges.

+ “How much should a bagel sandwich cost?” Step off, Gawker. This is our corner, and we’ve got bats. 

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When Giving Makes You Feel Rich Vs. Poor

On Thursday, I bought my best friend sushi, a treat she only rarely allows herself. On Friday, I took two of my aunts to see Boyhood, the Richard Linklater movie filmed over 12 years, which is a revelation. Better and truer than Tree of Life, and it actually made me want to spend time in Texas. On Saturday, I sent my little brother and his girlfriend to see a show at the Kennedy Center as a happy birthday! / farewell to DC, since Judah is off, with his new car, to start a job in Las Vegas. And on Sunday, I bought dinner for my husband’s godmother and her daughter, who were visiting from North Carolina.

I feel great. Better than great: I feel rich.

Sometimes being generous doesn’t work that way for me. I can buy a friend a book, or dinner, or a present, just because, or make a donation to a worthy cause, and feel sort of bereft afterwards — or at least stressed out about how much discretionary spending I should allow myself. Not regretful, just tense and sad, and then usually guilty for feeling tense and sad.

Other times, tinkling bells play lightly in the distance, meaning magic has happened. Maybe my weekend of giving worked in part because I recently had a birthday in honor of which so many people were generous to me, and it felt good to pay that generosity forward? In any event, I spent more than I anticipated — #MyLastHundredBucks, easy — although I haven’t counted up exactly how much, and I don’t care; it made me actively happy to do it. I do wish I understood the alchemy a little better, because getting to act from a place of abundance rather than scarcity, getting to feel rich by giving money away, especially to people you love, is kind of the best feeling ever.

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