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The Cost of Fine Dining

July 22, 2012

Laube's Old Spain MenuOne of the more interesting items I found while going through some of my mother’s things was a menu from ‘Laube’s Old Spain: Buffalo’s Leading Restaurant and Seafood House’ dated Monday, June 2nd, 1947. I can only assume that my parents travelled to Buffalo for some reason in 1947, and had occasion to dine there; my mother obviously brought the menu home as a memento (similar menus, in good condition – as this one is – are selling online for $9.99; each is individually stamped with the date, clearly making them ‘one-off’ keepsakes).  Apparently, Laube’s was quite the place back in those days – located next to Shea’s Theatre in downtown Buffalo (there was also a Laube’s Old Spain on East Avenue in Rochester), it offered ‘fine dining’ to movie goers, as well as banquet facilities for larger groups (like weddings).

Laube's Old Spain Interior

The local radio station (WBEN) even ran a program called ‘Breakfast at Laube’s Old Spain’ from inside the restaurant, as mentioned on page 11 of the Perry Herald, Perry, N.Y., Thursday, December 1, 1949): “Teacher, Prize Winner on Radio Program:  While Miss Margaret Kane, first grade teacher in the local school branch of the Letchworth Central School was in Buffalo visiting during the Thanksgiving vacation, she had the opportunity to appear on the WBEN program, Breakfast at Laube’s Old Spain. Miss Kane won first prize, a hammered copper fruit dish with glass center.”

NOTE: the rest of this page  is well worth looking at, too – if for no other reason than to see what was considered ‘newsworthy’ 60+ years ago (not to mention the ads for a $59.00 sofa bed and ‘the first really new post-war vacuum cleaner … with exclusive suction regulator’ for $39.95)!

Cambria's Old Spain Painted Signage (still there)HISTORICAL NOTE: apparently Laube’s was sold and renamed ‘Cambria’s Old Spain’ in or around the early 1980s. It was a Swiss Chalet outlet in the late 80s and 90s, and then used as a catering and special events venue for Shea’s Theatre after that. In 2007 Shea’s converted the old cocktail lounge into an intermission lounge to serve as a ‘bridge’ between Shea’s Performing Arts Centre and the Smith Theatre, which now occupies the old restaurant space, as well as the building beside it.

Laube's Drinks  MenuWhat I found most fascinating about the Laube’s menu was the prices.  On the back were the alcoholic beverages – you could get a martini, a gin fizz, a Tom Collins or a Manhattan (among many other ‘fancy drinks’) for 45 cents (the most expensive cocktail offered was a Brandy Egg Nog for 60 cents); cordials and liqueurs were 45 to 60 cents; brandy (even a 15 year old Courvoisier) cost 60 cents; beer (including still-available brands like Budweiser and Labatt’s) was 20 to 30 cents; wine cost 30 cents a glass (eight varieties offered); and a bottle of domestic champagne would set you back a whopping $4.50.

Inside is listed an amazing array of food offerings. The ‘Dinner Extraordinary’ was ‘served all day’.  It included your choice of Seafood Cocktail, Fruit Cup Sunkist, Fresh Opened Cherrystones On Half Shell, Relishes, Split Pea Soup, or Consommé to start; a main course (see below) with Mashed or French Fried Potatoes and Choice of Vegetables; Waldorf or Shredded Lettuce Salad; Coffee, Tea, Milk or Iced Tea; and your choice of Pie, Stewed Prunes, Rice Custard, Ice Cream, Marshmallow Sundae, Layer Cake, Fruited Jello, French Pastry, Sherbet, Chocolate Sundae, or Fresh Strawberry Parfait for dessert; as well as Choice of Cheese with Toasted Crackers – all for the incredible low price of $1.50 (I kid you not!)

Entrees:

Broiled Jumbo Whitefish, Maitre d’Hotel
Broiled Lake Trout, Butter Sauce
Baked Halibut, Egg Sauce
Fried Filet of Pike, Tartar Sauce
Deep Fried Sea Scallops, Tartar Sauce
Chicken a la King en Patty Shell
Broiled Calves Liver and Bacon
Broiled Pork Chops
Roast Virginia Ham, Raisin Sauce
Roast Young Turkey, Giblet Gravy
Roast Prime Rib of Beef au Jus (10 cents extra)
Broiled Half Spring Chicken (15 cents extra)
Grilled Fresh Shad Roe with Bacon on Toast (15 cents extra)
Whole Broiled Live Lobster, Drawn Butter (65 cents extra)

NOTE: if you wanted Sirloin or Tenderloin Steak with your dinner, it would cost you 75 cents more!

NOTE: all these items were also offered ‘a la carte’ for anywhere from 65 cents to $1.65; ‘starters’ and desserts were 15 to 20 cents each.

Laube's Dinner Extraordinary

Sandwiches (served on Rye, White, Whole Wheat Bread, Toasted if Desired) ranged from 25 cents (Minced Ham on Toast, Boiled Ham) and 30 cents (Peanut Butter and Jelly, Cream Cheese and Jelly, Liverwurst on Rye, Toasted Cheese, Western Egg, Swiss Cheese), all the way up to 50 cents for Sliced Chicken, 55 cents for Chicken Salad, and 60 cents for Tuna Fish Salad.

There were ‘fixed price’ lunches (Baked Halibut w/Egg Sauce, Fried Filet of Pike w/Tartar Sauce, Chicken Croquette w/Fresh Mushroom Sauce, Chopped Sirloin Steak w/Fresh Mushroom Sauce, Turkey Wing Fricassee w/Steamed Rice, Baked Virginia Ham w/Raisin Sauce) that came with your choice of V8 Cocktail, Split Pea Soup or Consommé to start; Mashed or French Fried Potatoes and Choice of Vegetables; Coffee, Tea, Milk or Iced Tea to drink; and Butterscotch Pie, Stewed Prunes, Rice Custard, Ice Cream, Layer Cake, Fruited Jello, Cottage Pudding w/Cherry Sauce, or Sherbet for dessert – all included for the princely sum of 75 cents.

Laube's Kid's MenuKiddie meals came complete with a starter, drink and dessert (the Pinocchio – Chicken a la King on Toast was 55 cents; the Geppetto – Poached Egg on Toast or PB and J, and the Blue Fairy – a Scrambled Egg with Bacon or Fresh Vegetable Plate were each 35 cents; clearly this was around about the time Disney released the classic animated film, ‘Pinocchio’).

Naturally, I couldn’t help but wonder how the unbelievably low prices I was seeing compared with the price of eating out today. NOTE: very few restaurants offer as complete a dinner package as Laube’s Old Spain did, so I decided to compare the a la carte items with ‘matching’ menu items from a popular ‘family-style’ restaurant in town that offers a wide variety of standard fare similar to the listings at Laube’s.

Menu Item Laube’s Old Spain, 1947 Modern Family Restaurant, 2012
Soup of the Day

.15

$2.95

Coffee or Tea or Milk or Iced Tea

.15

$2.50

Grilled Cheese and Bacon Sandwich

.40

$5.00

Toasted Western Sandwich

.30

$5.00

Chicken Salad Sandwich

.55

$4.75

Hamburger

.40

$7.50

Sirloin Steak Dinner (w/vegetable, potatoes, rolls and butter)

$1.65

$19.95

Roast Turkey Dinner (w/vegetable, potatoes, rolls and butter)

$1.00

$15.95

Liver and Onions/Bacon (w/vegetable, potatoes, rolls and butter)

.85

$11.95

Pork Chops (w/vegetable, potatoes, rolls and butter)

.85

$15.95

Broiled Lake Trout  (w/vegetable, potatoes, rolls and butter)

.85

$15.95

Ice Cream

.15

$2.50

Chocolate Sundae

.20

$4.99

Slice of Pie

.15

$3.99

Compared to today’s restaurant prices, the amounts listed on the Laube’s menu seem ridiculously low.  But in 1947 the average hourly wage (‘manufacturing sector’) was $1.10 (the average weekly ‘manufacturing’ income in 1947: $41.85 for men, $28.11 for women; supervisory or administrative weekly salaries: $60.21 for men, $28.68 for women). So, lunch at Laube’s Old Spain (hamburger, non-alcoholic drink, ice cream) would cost a ‘working man’ 70 cents (or about two-thirds of an hour’s pay); dinner (soup, non-alcoholic drink, roast turkey entrée and pie) would come to $1.45, or roughly one and a third times his hourly wage (add a mixed drink, bottle of beer, or a glass of wine and he would have to have worked an hour and a half to pay for it.)

Today, the average hourly wage for someone working in the ‘manufacturing sector’ is roughly $19.50 (there is no variance in men vs. women’s wages, likely because of today’s anti-discrimination laws; however, the overall ‘average’ overall weekly income for men in Canada is $973.20; for women it’s $843.60).  So, if a person who works in ‘manufacturing’ today goes out for the same kind of lunch at the local restaurant, s/he would spend about $12.50 (or, again, about two-thirds of an hour’s wage). A dinner, similar to the one above, would set him/her back $25.39, which is – you guessed it! – 130% of an hour’s wage (and if you add in an alcoholic beverage, it rises to just over an hour and a half’s pay).  NOTE: none of these totals include any kind of taxes or a tip!

A lot has changed in the past 65 or so years, but it seems the cost of eating out has actually kept pace with inflation (and wages).  But while the idea of paying $1.50 for an entire dinner these days is pure fantasy, paying $25+ (with taxes – here in Ontario, anyway – and a ‘reasonable’ tip, that climbs to well over $30.00) for a dinner out seems just a little too rich for my taste. I guess I’ll just have to suss out restaurants  in my town that offer senior’s discounts to those of us on … the other side of 55.

Laube' s Old Spain (Post Card)

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8 Comments
  1. October 26, 2012 10:24 pm

    Does anyone remember the gnome sitting on the stairs going up to the restrooms at Laube’s Old Spain? When I was a little kid, I would escape the adults and climb up the stairs to talk to it!

    • October 27, 2012 10:45 am

      I wish there were more photos available of this obviously ‘infamous’ restaurant!

      Margo

  2. July 23, 2012 3:44 pm

    Great post! Loved seeing the menu prices and then having you figure out the comparisons in today’s terms…good job! And yes, being on the other side of fifty-five(I just turned fifty-nine last week), does have a few perks…such as menu discounts and smaller portions to go along with them. I hate leaving food on my plate but find restaurants serve way too much food for one person these days. Now, don’t I just sound like an old foggy? LOL.

    • July 24, 2012 10:33 am

      I wish they had ‘senior servings’ (just like the ‘kid’s menu’) at restaurants. I never eat more than half of what they serve (and my husband really doesn’t ‘need’ to finish up what I don’t consume). And oftentimes, if I ask for a substitution (i.e, salad instead of fries) they charge extra! And there’s only one restaurant we know of that provides soup or salad as a ‘starter’ as part of the meal (not to mention bread – my husband HAS to have bread wit his dinner); and no one throws in dessert and/or coffee or tea anymore (why do I have to pay $2.50 for a 5 cent tea bag and a metal pot of lukewarm water?!?!?!?). Everything is ‘extra’ – and there’s way too much for the average person. (And yes, we’re both old fogies – and I’m damn proud of it!)

      Margo

  3. July 23, 2012 10:35 am

    I love old menus. Even have a few framed in my den.

    • July 23, 2012 11:02 am

      The menus of ‘yesterday’ has a lot of class. Today it’s all about flashy pictures (that don’t really reflect what comes on the plate!)

      Margo

  4. Colleen permalink
    July 23, 2012 9:37 am

    My Grandparents have old menus from their restaurants too. .5 cent coffees and .25 cent chicken dinners at The Millionaire!

    • July 23, 2012 11:01 am

      What an awesome video – takes me back to the 60s! Thanks for sharing this, Colleen!

      Margo

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