The High Price Tag of Sushi: Understanding its Expensive Nature

You love sushi and would eat it daily if you could, but after crunching the numbers, you’ve realized that you can’t afford it. Compared to a regular meal, most sushi restaurants charge quite a bit for a medium roll of six to eight pieces. Why does a piece of sushi have to be so expensive?

Sushi is expensive due to many different factors, such as the cost of ingredients (especially imported seafood), and consumer demand. Sushi is also labor-intensive, which means you will pay more for it. The price also covers any loss the restaurant may suffer due to fish spoilage.

While you may not stop eating sushi due to the price, stick around to understand the reasons behind the price.

These are 11 reasons why Sushi is so expensive:

1. Imported Seafood Drives Up Costs.

Many places in the United States do not have the luxury of being near the ocean with plenty of fish to choose from in local fish markets. That means that most sushi restaurants need to import their fish, which can get expensive. For instance, bluefin and yellowtail tuna must be imported, which means sushi made with those varieties of fish are going to be more expensive.

2. High-Quality Sushi Costs More.

Making sushi is an art form that takes years to master. If you were to make sushi at home, you might stumble through it and slap some ingredients together to make it look a little bit like sushi, but let’s face it – you probably don’t have the skills to create high quality, pretty sushi like the master chefs (Itamae) do. So you pay more to have lovely sushi that tastes great.

Sushi chefs must also understand flavor and how it all works together to create that perfect balance sushi is known for. You might be able to put flavors together that work, but then again, you may not.

3. Consumer Demand Allows Prices to Be Higher.

Since its debut in America in the 1950s, sushi has become increasingly popular, making it one of the most sought-after foods after the classic burger and fries. While restaurateurs are not trying to be greedy, they can still charge more for sushi because the market allows it. Consumer demand creates higher prices.

Customers also perceive sushi as expensive and will pay more for it because they think it is of higher value. The public perception of what sushi is worth allows restaurants to charge higher prices. Restaurants will take advantage of this perception in some ways, as they want to price their food at least at the fair market value.

4. Sushi Is Very Labor-Intensive.

If you’ve ever tried to make sushi at home, you know how labor-intensive it can be. Cutting the fish, cooking the rice, slicing the vegetables, making the sauces, and getting everything right takes a lot of time. Chefs price their creations according to how long and laborious a dish on the menu takes to prepare. Rolling each roll carefully while not damaging the seaweed takes time and effort. Once it’s rolled, the last step is arranging the rolls artfully on the plate.

5. The Price Covers Losses Due to Food Spoilage.

When sushi restaurants buy fish, they know that at least some of the fish will spoil before they get a chance to sell it. They try to predict how much they will need, but slow days and demand can cause fish to go unsold, so chefs have to throw it away. Chefs must know how to tell when a fish used for sushi has spoiled, as it will be different than a fish to be cooked. The often high price covers fish spoilage and helps them recoup their losses.  

6. Ingredients Can Be Expensive.

Sushi ingredients are expensive, as they are generally not available at most food markets in the US. For instance, fish sold for sushi is about 25-50% higher in price than fish sold for cooking. The reason for this is that when fish is to be eaten raw, special precautions must be taken to ensure the quality of the fish. Fish to be eaten raw must be flash-frozen when caught, then that temperature must be maintained from the boat to the restaurant, and suppliers need specialized equipment to keep the temperature consistent. 

Also, sushi fish is sold in smaller volumes, so the price is higher due to the lack of economies of scale. Other ingredients, such as dried seaweed, real wasabi, rice, and specialized vinegar, are all rising in price, and chefs must pass on those prices to the customer if they are to make a profit.

7. You’re Paying for Variety.

Some fish are cheap, such as tilapia, halibut, and farmed salmon, while others like Bluefin, yellowtail, and scallops are more expensive. Many sushi restaurants use a variety of fish to keep things exciting, which keeps their customers coming back to experience more options. Some restaurants will also specialize in specific types that command a higher price.

Sushi and sashimi accommodate all types of fish, so to stay on top of trends, many chefs use more and more expensive fish. That’s why some sushi is more costly than others, even within the same restaurant.

8. Sushi Is More Popular in Larger Cities.

Many of the sushi restaurants are in large cities, given the diversity and, therefore, the demand of consumers. Compared to small towns, larger cities often have higher prices for everything. While there are no set prices and costs fluctuate drastically, prices for sushi are usually higher in larger cities. The price of a basic 6-piece sushi roll in a large city, like NYC or Chicago, can be quite pricey.  

9. You Pay for the Dining Experience

Many sushi restaurants offer seats near where the chef prepares sushi, or they have hibachi grills that you can sit at where the chef takes your order and makes it in front of you. These and other factors create a unique dining experience.

10. The Synergy of Flavors Increases the Value.

Sushi is prepared with many different ingredients that work together well and complement each other in a small package. Delicate flavors blend with harsh flavors that create that fine balance that pops into your mouth. Savory, sweet, spicy, and bitter ingredients are put together to make a delicious experience. Sushi is expensive because the taste alone is worth the extra money for splurging.

11. Master Sushi Chefs (Itamae) Command More Money.

To become a sushi chef is not easy, and it requires many years of training and experience. Once a student learns the necessary skills, they then train under a master chef for many years as an apprentice. Once they are finished training and become a master sushi chef, they are ready to command a higher salary. It’s not uncommon for a master sushi chef to earn a six-figure salary. As a result, restaurants pass these costs to the customer.

All Things Considered

While sushi is a unique dining experience, it is not always budget-friendly. However, when done once in a while, it might be worth it to dine on freshly prepared sushi.

If you don’t have the money for restaurant sushi, you can buy grocery store sushi, or learn how to make it at home. Another way to save money on sushi is to go for lunch, as the lunch specials are generally cheaper than dinner prices.

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This article was co-authored by our team of writers and editors who share one thing in common: their passion for food and drinks!

JC Franco
Editor | + posts

JC Franco works as a New York-based editor at Foodrinke, driven by his lifelong love for food. His culinary journey began in childhood, as he eagerly assisted his mother with her local sandwich and bakery business, relishing every opportunity to sample her creations. Known among family and friends as an easy eater, JC has a particular affinity for Chinese, Italian, Mexican, and Peruvian cuisine. At Foodrinke, he channels his passion for food into his work, sharing his enthusiasm and knowledge with readers.