Saturday, February 12, 2005

Bistro Economics

Want to see a New Yorker just completely lose it? Tell him that the eats are better in Philly or Baltimore and watch the hilarity that ensues - stuttering, steam coming out of ears, head spinning, sudden coughing fits, etc. Never the less, I've been contending it's true for years.

Sure, New York has the best restaurants in the world - if you're willing and able to lay out a couple of C-notes every night, but the little-known truth is that for your neighborhood restaurants, bistros, diners, and coffee shops, Charm City and Philly have the more "cosmopolitan" northeastern cities (New York, DC, Boston) beat hands down. After moving from Baltimore to DC, I found myself unable to eat out as frequently, based on the higher costs, and less excited about doing so, as the restaurants in my price range were more likely to be uninspired chains than eclectic local joints. (Of course, there's always the exceptions that prove the rule.)

My explanation has always been the cheaper startup costs which result from the cheaper real estate. Cheaper startup costs mean more entrants to the market, and cheaper eats from those who do. And for those of us who aren't being shuttled around Manhattan in a stretch Escalade, that's a huge benefit.

Tyler Cowen has a post regarding the restaurants of Paris, and the similar phenomenon that is taking place there. He points out that the impact of real estate values can go beyond the mere startup costs, and affect the cost and availability of supplies and talented labor. The net affect of all of this is that while Paris, New York, and Washington may indeed be home to the best restaurants the world has to offer, your average citizen will likely enjoy better quality and more eclectic local fare at a cheaper price in cities without such worldly airs.


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