The topic of price-free menus has been sparking controversy across the restaurant world. While it may sound like a lucky escape from paying, unfortunately, it is nothing of the sort. Price-free menus are a practice used commonly by highbrow restaurants that purposely withhold the cost of dishes and drinks on their menus in-house and online. In a world where researching dining establishments before choosing a destination is a normal routine, neglecting to include the prices of food and beverages feels extremely ineffective. 

For the budget-savvy restaurant-goers who aim to spend a certain amount every time they dine out, price-free menus pose a challenge. Do they have to take precautionary measures and call a restaurant to ask for prices ahead of time? Or should they just stick it out through the meal and hope for the best when the check arrives? While upscale restaurants may have surprising prices on their dishes to begin with, it’s not necessarily the cost of meals on price-free menus that are a growing concern. It’s the fact that there is no way to possibly gauge how much a night out at these establishments will amount to. 

Price-free menus come in many forms, with some sneakier than others. Let’s say you made the mistake of visiting a restaurant with a price-free menu, only to find out that your meal was way over budget. You learned that the lobster ravioli was not exactly in your price range, but it was so delicious that this restaurant has become your new go-to splurge meal. Since you now know the costly price of your new favorite dish, you’ll just put in a few extra hours at work per month to make this restaurant a celebratory staple. Problem solved, right? Not always. Restaurants with price-free menus have the ability to change the costs of their dishes like any other establishment. However, without the information provided on the price of each meal, there’s no way to decipher whether or not that lobster ravioli will cost the same amount next time.

A handful of fancy NYC-based restaurants refuse to post prices on their menus, with establishments listed under Major Food Group as prime examples. Major Food Group holds an array of New York restaurants like Carbone, Santina and Dirty French as top offenders. Taking the restaurant world’s outrage by price-free menus into account, Major Food Group wants to shift gears and nix this practice. In an interview with Eater New York, Major Food Group’s co-owner Jeff Zalaznick noted that his 12 restaurants would post menu prices by the end of the month to get rid of this outdated policy. 

The origins of price-free menus further support the concept’s antiquity. In Europe, it is common for women to receive price-free menus. A man can wander into a lavish pasta bar in Rome and discover prices listed under each plate, only to find his date’s menu price-free. In a Telegraph article written by a travel blogger who wanted to get to the bottom of this bizarre tradition, he noted that his questions were met by a shocking revelation from a Florence-based manager: Women will order whatever they want if they don’t know the price.    

For diners at upscale restaurants in the U.S. and females at restaurants in Europe, elitist and misogynistic undertones are reflected through price-free menus. In 2020, restaurant-goers expect to be treated equally regardless of gender or wallet-size, and this can’t be done without providing the necessary information on menus. Whether or not European restaurants will continue this outdated practice is beyond our control, but it’s safe to say that Major Food Group’s change in price-free menu policies is a step in the right direction.