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State of Lobster Prices: Wholesale Restaurant Food Cost Trends

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Justin GuinnAuthor

Often when you see lobsters on restaurant menus, it’s listed as “market price.” That’s another way of saying wholesale restaurant lobster prices are highly variable — from day-to-day or week-to-week.

Restaurants with a lobster heavy menu may need a larger focus in their lobster price tracking and strategic menu pricing to account for fluctuating costs.

Regardless of your restaurant type or lobster usage, monitoring the restaurant supply chain can help operators forecast price fluctuations, plan their ingredient costs, and set strategic menu prices.

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Toast is the point of sale system built for restaurants.

We're able to calculate the average monthly prices that eating establishments pay for lobster by using proprietary data from xtraCHEF by Toast, our invoice automation and recipe costing tool.

The average national price that restaurants paid for a pound of lobster is $4.51 in August.

Here's a breakdown of historical data on wholesale restaurant lobster prices in the last year:

Restaurant lobster prices have been steady over the past year — fluctuating no more than 5% month-over-month  in either direction.

Here's a breakdown of recent month-over-month fluctuations in the price of lobster for restaurants:

Commodities experts weigh in on lobster prices

We were able to speak with some experts in the food commodities space to understand their analysis on lobster price trends and the impact on restaurants. 

Question

What’s the seasonality of lobster and how should restaurant owners expect wholesale lobster prices to trend into 2024?

Seasonality in lobster varies by product type. Based on 10-year price trends, live lobster prices generally peak late March/early April, with the arrival of Spring and increased demand. Lobster tails, which are typically frozen, tend to cycle up in price towards the end of the year as the holidays approach (December through Valentines). Based on current data, it appears that both live and lobster tail price trends seem to be reverting back to a more normal cycle post-Covid, so expectations are that live-lobster prices will increase in March/April, while lobster tail prices are already starting to cycle up as we near the end of 2023.

David Branch 1
David Branch
Wells Fargo Agri-Food Institute

Types of lobster varieties

There are various types of lobsters available in the market, but two stand out as the most popular: Maine lobster and Canadian lobster.

Maine lobster, also known as American lobster, is highly sought after for its sweet and succulent meat. Maine’s lobster industry and its It is widely recognized for its hard shell, which helps preserve the flavor and texture during cooking. 

Canadian lobster, on the other hand, includes both the Atlantic lobster and the smaller rock lobster found in the Pacific. While Canadian lobster is known for its rich flavor, it typically has a softer shell.

Different ways restaurants can buy lobster from suppliers

Restaurants have several options when it comes to buying lobster from suppliers. They can choose to purchase live lobsters, which allows for the flexibility of selecting lobsters of specific sizes and qualities. 

Live lobsters can be kept in tanks and prepared according to the restaurant's needs. 

Another option is to buy pre-cooked lobsters or lobster meat, which can save time and labor in the kitchen. Pre-cooked lobsters are often served as a whole lobster or used in dishes like lobster rolls or lobster bisque. 

Lobster meat can be purchased as tail meat or claw meat, offering convenience and consistency in menu preparation.

Popular lobster dishes

Lobster is a prized crustacean that lends itself to a variety of delicious dishes. 

Some popular lobster dishes include lobster rolls, where the sweet lobster meat is often mixed with a light dressing and served in a buttered and toasted roll. 

Lobster bisque, a creamy and flavorful soup made from lobster stock, is another classic choice. 

Grilled or steamed lobster tails are often served as a standalone entree, while lobster thermidor offers a luxurious option with the meat cooked in a creamy sauce and topped with cheese. 

These dishes showcase the versatility and exquisite taste of lobster, providing a memorable dining experience for customers.

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History of eating lobsters in America

Lobsters have a fascinating history in America. 

In the early years, lobsters were so abundant that they were considered food only for the poor or used as fertilizer. However, in the 19th century, the advent of railroad transportation allowed fresh lobsters from Maine to reach urban centers like Boston and New York City. 

As tourists and locals alike developed a taste for lobsters, the demand for this delectable crustacean grew exponentially. 

Today, lobster is synonymous with luxury and is cherished as a delicacy across the country.

Maine lobsters and other places where they originate

Maine is renowned worldwide for its exceptional lobster industry. The state's cold and nutrient-rich waters provide the ideal conditions for the growth of high-quality lobsters. 

Maine is home to skilled lobstermen who carefully harvest this prized seafood. 

Portland, Maine's largest city, serves as a hub for the lobster market, where lobsters are procured, processed, and distributed to various destinations across the globe. 

In addition to Maine, other regions, such as Atlantic Canada, also produce renowned lobsters due to their similarly favorable cold-water fishery conditions.

How to humanely cook lobster

Cooking lobster humanely is an important consideration for restaurants. 

To ensure ethical treatment, it is recommended to cook lobsters quickly to minimize stress and suffering. 

Plunging lobsters headfirst into boiling water or using a steaming method are both popular techniques. The goal is to quickly and efficiently end the lobster's life in a humane manner. 

It's important to remember that lobsters are often selected from tanks or delivered live, so proper and humane cooking practices are essential to maintain the integrity of the culinary experience while respecting the welfare of these crustaceans.

When is lobster season in New England and other lobster markets?

Lobster season varies depending on the location and species of lobster. 

In the case of Florida, the regular lobster fishery season runs from August 6 to March 31, spanning eight months. Additionally, Florida has a mini lobster season which typically takes place on the last consecutive Wednesday and Thursday in July.

For other regions, lobster season dates may differ. In warm climates, lobster season often occurs in the fall and winter when the water is colder.

In cooler climates like New England, lobsters can be fished year-round — though they’re more plentiful during the summer months as they move closer to the shore and into warmer waters.

It's important for restaurant owners and operators to be aware of the specific lobster fishing season dates and timelines for lobster market processors in their area in order to plan their menu offerings and ensure availability of this sought-after seafood.

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Use this guide to learn more about your restaurant invoices, the value within, and how to consistently and accurately tap into it to make smarter decisions.

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Start tracking lobster prices today

High prices of lobster can boil away your profits. That’s why restaurateurs should consider having a strong back-of-house cost tracking foundation that’s built on invoice automation.

Invoices are the single source of truth for restaurant costs — pinpointing prices and fluctuations for individual ingredients as well as paper goods, non-alcoholic beverages, and more.

With accurate and up-to-date ingredient prices from invoices, operators can start calculating plate costs. Plate costing is a detailed exercise that zooms into the recipes and/or individual ingredients that make up a dish — requiring detailed recipe costs and portion costs for ingredients.

Costing exercises can help show how each component is contributing to the overall profitability of a dish or drink. And recipe costing software can help make it easier to calculate and achieve an ideal balance between portions and profits.




Methodology

Toast analyzed monthly invoice items for lobster from restaurants using xtraCHEF by Toast. Items are weighted by the frequency of orders, not quantity. A standard unit of measure is determined so that an average price can be calculated across all invoice inclusions of the ingredient.

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