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The Trouble With Charging More for Maple

November 13, 2012

This one comes to me from the trenches. In this day and age that means Twitter.

So this past weekend there was a rising tide of complaints about incremental upcharges for real maple syrup on restaurant menus. And people were turning to me for support. But here’s the funny thing. I love to see real maple syrup on the menu, and I’m almost always happy to pay for it.

Fake maple syrup is generally nasty and vile stuff. Some is simply high fructose corn syrup, artificial flavors, thickeners, preservatives, and coloring agents. Seriously, who really looks at a bottle of this stuff and says, “That sounds delicious, let me pour it all over my breakfast.”

I don’t. So when there is a better alternative, I’ll jump on it and be thankful that I can eat waffles the way God intended. And real maple syrup is crazy expensive. Putting it on the menu adds real costs to a restaurant.

But there is one critical reason why restaurants should not engage in charging more for the good stuff.

People. People are tricky. People will swear up and down that they can tell real maple syrup from the artificial impostors  Blindly. And better than chance. But, I don’t think they can. Frankly, I’m concerned that I might not be able to do it either.

Yes, some fake maple syrups are really nasty. They are thick, gummy and overly sweet with no real maple flavor to them at all. But not all of them are. And since real maple syrup is an agricultural product, there is a tremendous amount of variation in it too. The higher grades have little maple flavor, and it’s possible for them to be thin and light.

The problem isn’t cost. The problem is trust. And on some level a commitment to quality.

One of the concerns I picked up from Twitter this past weekend was someone who paid for real maple but wasn’t convinced they actually received it. The funny thing is that I know this person has a palate. Which is not to say that I’m convinced the restaurant goer was correct. We spoke this weekend, and I learned that the offending syrup seemed too thin and watery to be the real thing.

Well, maybe it was and maybe it wasn’t. Human error happens. But in a matter of blind taste it’s pretty difficult to tell for certain.

The decision to stock real maple syrup and only real maple syrup needs to be a part of a restaurant’s identity. I think places like The Flying Chicken, The City Beer Hall, and Jake Moon, restaurants that are built on the foundation of good, high quality food, with great ingredients, should fully commit to using 100% Grade B maple syrup.

Change the price on the menu if you must. We’ll forgive you. Bake in the extra buck into the cost of the dish, and eliminate any specter of doubt once and for all.

At a restaurant of any quality, there should be no room for imitation maple syrup within its walls.
Period.

11 Comments leave one →
  1. Jenna C. permalink
    November 13, 2012 10:38 am

    I started getting Grade B at your suggestion maybe a year ago. The Grade A stuff often tastes thin and watery and not mapley enough to me now. I recently went out to eat at one of the places you mentioned, paid the upcharge for the real stuff and I thought for a brief moment as I was eating, “Huh, this is real maple syrup?” I then remembered I’ve been spoiled by the Grade B stuff and chalked it up to that.

  2. November 13, 2012 11:31 am

    Totally agreed with “no room for imitation maple syrup” rule. I generally can’t order maple syrup requiring breakfast items out at a restaurant for the fear of not being able to eat it with maple syrup. I can imagine though (sadly) maple syrup diluted to “extend” it like teenage kids putting water in the liquor to get it back up to the point they started drinking it in hopes their parents won’t notice. Back in the days when I was a kid and the family had to be conservative with money and the real thing was too expensive, my father used to buy us the syrup with 15% real maple syrup in it-and we should be so lucky to have it. (Yes, this was in my home country of Canada) So sure, diluted maple syrup is nothing new, but totally problematic. In QC they called the fake stuff “sirop de poteau” implying the sap to make it was tapped from telephone poles!

  3. -R. permalink
    November 13, 2012 11:34 am

    I know I’ll be frowned upon for saying so, but I prefer the fake stuff to the real stuff which I find too highly variable in both taste and consistency to be trusted (especially when eating out); there’s nothing worse than defiling a perfectly good waffle or stack of flapjacks with some thin, insipid tasting, watery dross. Yes, I’ve had good genuine maple syrup, but to my palate it’s the exception, not the rule. You can pry that bottle of Vermont Maid out of my cold dead hands.

  4. November 13, 2012 11:47 am

    You raise an interesting point. Having always had grade B it’s likely what I got was grade A. Personally, I have no issue paying more for the real stuff, if it’s quality real stuff. I have been charged an extra $1.00 but would happily pay $2-3 for real maple syrup. I understand the food costs etc. I wonder how they would feel if I brought my own in?

    And now you have me wondering if I can taste the difference.

  5. November 13, 2012 12:07 pm

    -R is not alone, many Americans supposedly prefer corn syrup over maple and it’s interesting to hear why, because of consistency. The varying nuances of flavors in each batch indeed make them unique even after grading. The lighter “early run” sap is actually most coveted and much more expensive in QC whereas the darker grade B syrup is preferred in America. Grade A is more expensive here too but could certainly be what Pirate Jeni got at the restaurant if they went for the fancy stuff. Interesting!

  6. November 13, 2012 12:12 pm

    I am in the charge-extra camp as long as the restaurant provides Grade B and specifies what it is. I was introduced to Grade B some 20 years ago when I met my wife’s family and have not looked back. But, that’s not the maple syrup experience most people have and I think there are lots of folks who prefer the lighter color and milder taste of Grade A.

    Yes, that’s pretty close to “imitation” syrup so I think it’s not worth the extra cost to the restaurant to provide it and eat the cost, nor do I think it’s something customers other than the foppish and status-conscious would willingly pay extra for. I grew up on Log Cabin (back when it was packed in little square metal cabins) and liked it just fine.

    So the best practice is to offer Grade B, explain what it is and why you’re charging extra, then have “regular” syrup for those who don’t want to pay that cost.

  7. November 13, 2012 12:35 pm

    My family was the blue-ribbon winner for Maple Syrup at the NYS fair for years, as well as one of the largest producers in the state. And yet I still fall victim to not being able to tell a Grade A from a good imitation. So I’ll start bringing a small vile of real stuff with me to eat out. Kind of like how I also keep cocktail bitters in my purse, just in cases.

  8. November 13, 2012 1:49 pm

    We’ve been getting Mountain Winds (pure!) maple syrup (in Berne, NY) for about 2 years now and it is superior tasting to any other syrup I’ve had in every way, it has a well-balanced smoky flavor. We typically get Randy’s Grade B Dark, but since the sap running season was extra short this year due to warm weather in March, he’s been bringing us the Grade A the last couple of months (honestly, I can’t tell much difference – his syrup is sooo so good – I think it’s because he’s rigorus about what sap he keeps & processes – colder weather yields better tasting syrup + he’s positively antsy about the cooking temp, which varies minutely due to barometric pressure).

    Nick keeps the syrup in his steam table for service – is it possible the syrup the reader got was warm, and therefore more thin than if served at room temp or cold (we store ours cold)?

    Fun anecdote: our 5yo daughter has been discovered hiding “her” pint of Randy’s syrup under her bed so “nobody else can have any!” She’ll drink it straight every chance she gets and now eschews the HFCS “syrup” Nick’s mom has in the house, even if it’s all we’ve got around at the time. This from a child who loved capers at 2 and inhaled good brie for at least a year from 3-4, but wouldn’t even consider pizza or pb&j’s. We’re looking forward to seeing how her palate develops!

  9. November 13, 2012 3:07 pm

    I’m reasonably certain I could tell the difference because I find the taste of imitation maple abhorrent. Seriously, we had a maple flavoring extract at a bakery I used to work at and the smell of it made me nauseous. Real maple syrup has never done that to me.

    I wish it was offered everywhere. I would gladly pay an upcharge. $1 is reasonable. The problem is with places that can’t even be bothered to offer it for an upcharge and only have the fake stuff. Those places I take issue with. Assuming I want some synthetic version of a natural food? What other assumptions are you making with the ingredients used in the food you serve me?

  10. November 21, 2012 11:40 pm

    I am surprised at all the comments on variability. I’ve purchased Grade B from several purveyors over the years (including some I know personally) and texture and taste and sweetness has been extremely uniform. I have not inquired about the standards for blending and grading just assuming they work very well. Now, I’m wondering what testing and blending is actually done… any maple tappers out there that can help?

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