Why Some Restaurants Are Pulling Lobster From Their Menu

You probably wouldn't call lobster a bargain meal. But prices for the succulent shellfish have skyrocketed to the point that some restaurants have thrown in the towel and taken it off their menus.

In 2021, SeafoodSource reports the average price per pound for lobster was $6.71, almost $2 higher than that of the previous year. You might think this price jump stems from a shortage, but the supply of this crustacean has been going strong. Over the past 12 years, Maine lobster fishers have been hauling in close to or more than 100 million pounds annually. Last year, they caught over 108 million pounds — a 10% increase from 2020.

Though the lobster haul has remained steady, consumption of the shellfish is off the charts. Annie Tselikis, the executive director of the Maine Lobster Dealers' Association, explained to SeafoodSource that due to the "insatiable demand in the marketplace" during the pandemic, competition for lobster has increased, thus hiking up the price.

Now, in addition to the increased demand, James Ford of family-owned distributor Samuels Seafood told Washingtonian that a significant portion of the lobster supply was eaten up last month around Valentine's Day in the U.S. and Lunar New Year in China. Ford told the outlet they don't expect the price to drop "until the second or third week in April."

How restaurants are coping with the high cost of lobster

While some restaurants have decided to increase menu prices, other spots have opted to remove lobster from the menu completely or offer more affordable substitutions, the Washingtonian reports. Mason's Famous Lobster Rolls, a local franchise chain based in Annapolis, increased the price of its lobster roll gradually so what once went for $15 is now $19. Rusty Kurtov, the owner at one of the Mason's eateries, told the outlet he has also added a warm shrimp roll as a wallet-friendly alternative.

Other restaurants, however, are hesitant to raise prices significantly. Jamie Leeds, chef and owner at Hank's Oyster Bar, increased the price of her lobster roll by only a dollar across her three locations last year. (Leeds charges $29 for the lobster roll, which contains four ounces of lobster meat.) This has dug into the profitability of the menu item, as Washingtonian states her costs can sometimes be 30-50% higher than average, but keeping it at this price tag has meant retaining her reputation of having a "good value restaurant with high quality product."

As stated above, these high prices are expected to stick around until the second or third week of April, when water temperatures get warmer (making lobsters more active), and the Newfoundland catch in Canada enters the market. But until then, ordering lobster will definitely make a bigger dent in your wallet, if it's on the menu at all.