Don’t Pay Market Price

Hi, I'm Kathleen, and my corner of the internet is, where I write about getting out of debt, saving money, setting goals, and having fun in Portland, Oregon.

Recently, two of my cousins came to visit. They just finished their first year of college, and they wanted to take a trip together. These two are not siblings, simply best friends who live in the middle of the country and wanted to spend time in Portland.

I was excited to have them, of course, and knew that I could show them a good time. And we had a great time. They were here for a week and we put miles on the car, filled our days with Northwest activities, spent time with family, enjoyed each others company, and ate great food.

On our way back to Portland from Seattle, we stopped in Olympia, WA to hang out with my parents. We went to dinner at a restaurant on the water, and sat outside. The girls knew that my parents would buy dinner (because that's what parents do) and there was little discussion about what to order, except that I personally didn't want to eat too much because my dad told me there was a new ice cream shop in town.

One of the girls ordered a club sandwich, and the other decided to be brave and try something she'd never tried before: king crab legs from Alaska.


I'd never had them before, either. But that's because they are usually far too expensive. On this menu, they were listed at market pricewhich typically means that the dish will be as expensive as the most expensive item on the menu. Sometimes $10 above. And she's young, and perhaps hadn't seen "market price" on menus before.

My dad was in for a surprise when the bill came. Her crab legs were $50, when the expensive dinner items were around $22. She had no idea, and my dad didn't want me to tell her, so I didn't. She's not the type to take advantage of someone else buying her dinner -- in fact, she paid for my dinner at least once on the trip. She simply didn't know. She would not have ordered them if the price were listed.

My mom told my sister, who couldn't help but tell my cousin about her faux pas. She was so embarrassed, and couldn't believe that she'd ordered something that was as expensive as everyone else's meals, combined. This is a mistake she will never make again.

I feel like there were two problems here. One, she should not have ordered something without knowing the price. Two, and here's the kicker, the waitress really should have said something. When your normal dinner prices are $22, market price should never be $50. In fact, market price as a general rule should only be five or ten dollars higher than the next-most expensive item.

Have you ever ordered anything market price?


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31 thoughts on “Don’t Pay Market Price

  1. Nope - I take that as a warning sign! But I'll freely admit that at your cousin's age, I probably wouldn't have thought to ask. I agree the waitress should have at least hinted at the price..

  2. Edward Antrobus

    I've never heard of an item being listed as market price. To me, that doesn't sound like it should relate in any way to the prices of anything else on the menu, but instead on the going rate for that item.

    I disagree, also, that the waitress should be bound to explain the price. How should the waitress know your financial position. I'd put it to the old adage: if you have to ask the price, you can't afford it.

  3. Only when I'm on a business trip and it is getting paid out of my expenses. (Or if it's the only thing on the menu I can eat when I'm pregnant-- then I'll ask the price.)

  4. Emily

    Wow - that's insane! If I don't know the price, I don't order it. I also order based on price, portion size, and how well the dish will re-heat for lunch the next day or later. Only exception - when traveling for work and I don't have the ability to store the food.

  5. Emily @ evolvingPF

    I made that mistake once when out with friends - luckily it wasn't as bad as your cousin's! I usually don't even ask what the price is as I assume it's too expensive. I bet the wait staff doesn't offer that information because 1) they don't want to discourage you from buying and 2) it's a little crass to bring up money ("oh, you don't look like you can afford that, I'd better warn you").

  6. Kaylan

    I've never ordered anything "Market Price" and now I am so thankful to have a shellfish allergy and avoid this in the future. Yes, some fish are labeled "Market Price" but I am not a fan of other fish anyways.

    I'll stick with chicken, pork, and beef. AND I will make sure the boyfriend never orders "Market Price" entrees without inquiring the price first. Thanks for bringing this to my attention!

  7. Back in my splurging days I'd have no problem paying $50 for a meal. Market price listings wouldn't scare me off. It is a fairly deceptive practice by restaurants to hide the price like that. They know damn well that way less people would order it if it actually listed $50 or whatever.

  8. I never order 'market price' because I definitely figure its too expensive! As a waitress, I'm not sure I'd feel comfortable telling someone 'oh just so you know, market price means hella expensive' (not in those words but you know what I mean!) just because its awkward and I'd guess that if someone is ordering it, they are okay with the mystery price.

  9. We ordered some lobster at market price a few years back but we made sure to find out what it was before ordering. $50 is insanely high!! OMG.

  10. Ouch!!! That's gotta suck. I'd hate to be your cousin, gauging from the type of person she is, she definitely wouldn't have ordered it if she knew it was $50. At that point though, I'd offer to pay your dad back or at least half. I'd feel horrible. Even if your dad didn't accept it, I would force it down his throat. Or pocket. Haha 😛 I've never ordered market price because I know it's expensive, and crab legs are always expensive. Everyone should know that...

    As for the waitress, I don't blame her - she was probably happy someone was ordering it. She may have thought that the gal was sharing it with everyone else or something.

  11. Brian

    I have order things at market price, but I always ask what it is in advance so I know what I am getting myself into. Sometimes I just like having a really nice dinner, but those times are few and far between.

  12. Hi Kathleen - Ouch! That is a lot to pay for seafood! You're absolutely right. Not only should you never order something without knowing the price (unless you're really THAT rich), the waitress also should have said something. I'll bet that mistake never gets made again! 🙂

  13. It seems market price is normally for seafood which I am not a big fan of so it is fairly easy for me to avoid it. I bet that was one heck of a shock though. I wonder how exactly they determine market... cost plus 50%?

  14. Eddie

    Thankfully I'm not a seafood eater. Although I'm not surprised at the waitress not hinting at the market price.

  15. I did! 🙁

    When we were on our vacation in Hilton Head, our cousins took us to a pricey restaurant. I ordered a special, not knowing it was going to be EXPENSIVE. When we got the check and looked at the price, my eyes nearly fell on the ground. We paid for it, so we didn't make somebody else foot the bill. But still. I learned my lesson. Always ask for price.
    Plus, in my opinion, that plate of food was not worth the $$$

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  17. Wow, I've never ordered anything market price before and had no idea how expensive they could get. :S I always figured that they'd be expensive, but $50 versus $20-something is quite a bit.

    For me, when someone else is buying my meal, I try to let them order first so that I have an idea about the "average" price that they're spending and get something reasonable for myself.

  18. jefferson

    Great tip, Kathleen.. Whenever I see "Market Price" on a menu, I stay away from it. I want to know exactly how much something costs before I commit to purchasing it.

  19. I like to stay far far away from the "Market Price" items. I like to reserve that for something I can cook at home for a quarter of the price. For example, I wouldn't be caught dead ordering crab legs at a restaurant, but we are planning on organizing a seafood boil where we can shop around and get a decent price on them. Poor girl, I would have felt terribly embarrassed!!!
    -Nurse Frugal

  20. "The waitress really should have said something"... agree. But did anyone ask her? No waitress I know says something about the prices if I didn't ask. Anyway, I hope those legs were great.
    I stick to pork and potatoes and when I'm on vacation on Greece or Cyprus I eat only sea food.

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  23. Caitlin

    In my part time job as a waitress, I often get asked about the market price of halibut. If I were that waitress, I would ALWAYS tell my customers the price because if they are surprised, guess where that extra $30 is going to come from? My tip! Idiot waitress.

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