What's the Deal With $3 Soda at Miami Restaurants?EXPAND
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What's the Deal With $3 Soda at Miami Restaurants?

There's a bit of shame that comes with a daily Diet Coke. Yet something has been amiss lately. On bills it seems the price of a simple glass of sugar dissolved in fizzy water has become increasingly expensive.

One went for $3 at the recently shuttered Cake Thai in Wynwood. It was the same at Deme Lomas and Karina Iglesias' Arson in downtown, though it should be noted the drink comes in a glass bottle rather than out of a gun. The price was the same at Atchana's Homegrown Thai in Coconut Grove and at La Leggenda Pizzeria in South Beach. The price slipped under the mark to $2.25 at the downtown Brazilian buffet Camila's Restaurant and to $2.75 at Washington Charles' Lutum in Sunset Harbour. At Blue Ribbon Sushi Bar & Grill in Miami Beach, it crept up to $3.50, while at Son Cubano in Coral Gables, it climbed as high as $4.

No doubt this issue has been one of contention for some time. A 2011 post on J. Kenji Lopez-Alt's Serious Eats asks whether the $5 he paid for a Coca-Cola at a fancy place was too much. It elicited 128 comments, and the vast majority were quite ornery. 

But what gives? How is this still happening? How much are we overpaying for soda?

The answer, generally, is triple.

"People tend to multiply the cost of the product time to come up with profit because you pay for other things in a restaurant," such as the space, the service, the glassware, and so on, Arson's Iglesias says. Yet with other menu items, chefs and restaurant owners choose not to triple the price: With wines, she says, the markup is often tamped back to prevent sticker shock and make a sale.

Yet soda is something guests look at last, making soft drinks easy targets for the triple markup. "It's sticking it to the Man," Heath Porter of Uvaggio Wine Bar and No Name Chinese says. "If you look around in this day and age, it's hard to find anything under $10, even a bottle of beer. We're in a time when everybody's got to figure out a way to pay the bills."

Porter and his team indeed charge $3 for a glass of soda at their South Miami Chinese spot that opened this past summer. Yet they're doing it the right way, with house-made soda using fresh ingredients. "Plums are in season now, so we've been doing a ginger plum," he says. There's also lemongrass and lime alongside an array of teas brewed with aromatics.

But even if you're not getting a fresh soda, being charged an exorbitant sum for carbonated sugar water might not be the worst thing.

"I'm so against things like Coca-Cola that if I could charge $6 a bottle to get people not to drink it, I would," Arson's Iglesias says. "I smoke and I know it's killing me, but they put a tax on it to try to stop me. Why can't we do that on soda?"

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