By Sara Lewin Lebwohl
Kenna Kolaitos, born and raised on the Upper West Side, posted a warning recently with a local moms group. In it she told a cautionary tale, of interest to anyone who patronizes the city’s food carts.
“I don’t usually post things about vendors,” Kolaitos wrote, noting that her mom had worked at an UWS hardware store and she’s “all for small business,” like the vendors peddling hot dogs on UWS streets. “I’m all for people trying to make a buck, but when it’s underhanded it really burns my biscuits,” Kolaitos wrote.
The biscuit-burning experience began when Kolaitos and her family stopped to get hot dogs from a Nathan’s food cart on Central Park West near 81st Street, by the Museum of Natural History. Kolaitos ordered six hot dogs, fries with cheese, and two drinks. She did not ask the price before ordering, but then was told the total came to $56.
Kolaitos took the food and walked away, in sticker shock. She returned to the vendor and asked for a breakdown of the $56 tab. According to Kolaitos, the vendor had difficulty giving her numbers that made sense, and when she pulled out her calculator, “he acted like I was bothering him and he wasn’t very friendly.” When she heard he had charged $10 in “tax,” she demanded, and got, a refund of a few dollars. She left – only to find later that her credit card was charged $70, not the $56 he had quoted her. Kolaitos is disputing that charge.
Was this an isolated experience? Maybe, maybe not. The Rag heard recently from Eric Kabakoff, who frequents the UWS, about his “jaw dropping” ice cream purchase at a cart inside Central Park: $25 for one cone, one double cone, and one sundae. Equally shocking, said Kabakoff, was the $10 charge for a pretzel and water that he recently paid a vendor on 72nd Street and Central Park West.
“I don’t hold anything against these guys,” said Kabakoff. “It’s just a shock to the system when you wind up paying twice what you thought you would.”
So how are we to know the correct prices at the numerous food vendors in and around Central Park? A city Parks Department official told the Rag by email that “prices are established in advance, and vendors are required to post price lists.”
The official added that the city “recently approved an increase for certain items to account for factors like the rise in cost of goods and transportation prices.” Vendors who violate the rules are supposed to get a summons from the parks department, according to the official.
To see whether reality matched the city’s regulatory framework, I visited a few UWS vendors, starting with the one where Kabakoff bought his son a pretzel. I asked the prices for a hot dog and a pretzel: $6 each, I was told. I asked if the vendor had a price list; the answer was no. There was no price listed, and the price of the hot dog seemed suspiciously high.
Next stop: the west side of the Sheep Meadow. There, I found a cart that listed the prices of each item, including $4 for a hot dog, $3 for a pretzel, and, at most, $5 for ice cream (only if it’s Haagen Dazs).
I asked the vendor how he set his prices. He told me that all vendors are supposed to have the same prices, but some get greedy and charge more (His price list sported a few evident alterations.)
My last stop was at a cart In front of Cherry Hill, where I asked the price of a hot dog: $3.
Wow, I thought. Spot on. – that’s the price the city lists for a hotdog. Then again, he quoted the number after he saw me scouting for a price list, which was hidden under bags of chips.
Bottom line: if you are looking to grab a bite from a food cart, don’t just order. Check to see if there is a price list so you know what you are getting into. If there is no price list, expect the unexpected. It would be wise to, at least, ask the price before you get stuck holding a crazy expensive hot dog.
A full list of prices, and city regulations can be found here.
I haven’t seen a vendor ever charge the right prices. Look at the website link the price is $2 for a hot dog not $3. So why is $3 even ok? When i do order something from a vendor i follow it up with by the way where is your menu with. prices? The vendors know right away what you mean.
The pedicabs charge between $3 and $7 a minute which is another tourist ripoff.
Have been avoiding the Nathan’s hotdog stand on Central Park West near the AMNH! I was in desperate need of water last month during a heatwave, so reluctantly paid $3 for a small bottle from there. When I counted my change, he had tried to pocket an extra $2.
Investigative journalism at its finest. Thanks for the insight and legwork
I gave up buying from CP vendors years ago. Not only they try to overcharge, I have no idea how they pass inspection. Several times I got even the bottles of water or cans of soda that were sticky or covered in some sort of slime.
uhhh is anyone who grew up in the city questioning that these places are rip offs? I thought it was common knowledge…
Official price list is here:
The juice trucks never post their prices most are now $10!!
ALWAYS ask for the price up front, even if it’s just a can of soda.
Offer what you think is fair and if they say no just walk away.
If you have kids with you pack a bottle of water and a bag of M&Ms, enough to get you a block or two out of the zone of food carts and into a store or deli.
I always ask the price of anything from a cart before I agree to purchase.
You wouldn’t order food in a restaurant with no prices on the menu, nor would you buy clothing in store with no price tags. These folks prey on unknowing tourists and all of us!.Simple antidote before ordering: “How much is a hot dog? How much is a small bottle of water?” If you don’t like the answer, just walk away and find another cart.
Ever try to get your deposit back for a soda can?
Hi everyone. I went to that Nathan’s guy for a hotdog once about five years ago and he tried to rip me off so I just walked away without paying. I didn’t take the hotdog. I’m shocked he’s still there. Please report him to City Council Member Gale Brewer. She’ll get rid of him.
“$56? Charge me the local price or I’m walking away and you can recycle those hotdogs to some tourist.”
FWIW, at the Mets game on Father’s Day, 3 pre-wrapped hot dogs, with mustard and ketchup only given in packets, and sauerkraut for one dog, which was unceremoniously spooned into another foil wrapper (which, of course, leaked), were $25. For 3 hot dogs. Never again. We won’t even talk about the price of seats, which were in the top tier.
Did anyone see the difference between the prices in the park (not low, but reasonable, regulated and displayed) and the prices on the sidewalks next to the park? Also, it would be interesting to know how much is the concession fee in the park and outside the park.
Those carts are meant to rip off tourists who wouldn’t have a clue about the approved pricing. But it is nice to know if you can get them to honor the price.
Crazy seeing this story now, as the other day I had a lapse of judgement and gave in to a craving for a hot dog. I went to the cart at 72nd x CPW, ordered “one with mustard” and as he began preparing it, I asked what the price was. “Five dollars,” he said. FIVE DOLLARS FOR A HOT DOG?! “Never mind,” I said, “That’s nuts.” Then I had a craving for roasted nuts, but fought it and went home to eat.
Useful information. Good local reporting. Bottom line, no visible price list…go elsewhere.
It’s not just the vendors. I get NYC is super expensive, but, I was reminded how much. I was in Northern PA last week. I got a huge ice cream cone; two big scoops, for $3. Here, in one of these fancy new ice cream stores, easily $6+.
I make and eat all my own food and drink only tap water that I’ve refrigerated myself (unless I make hot tea, also with tap water).
I work too hard for my money to simply give it away, unless it’s for charity. My mother didn’t raise no fools.
Ripoff carts east of Columbus Circle as well. And no hotdog prices listed at indoor hotdog place on Broadway and 72nd. No price, no pay is good policy. Have a snack before leaving the house. Throughout much of Asia, when they see a “Ferenge” approaching, you’ll see the vendors talking among themselves how much to charge you. Give them what the product is worth to you and no more.
Gray’s on 72nd and Broadway does indeed have prices for all of their products listed.all over the store from signs on the walls, signs on the doors, signs next to the cash register as well as the new TV monitors.
Even before becoming a cranky old man, I avoided food carts in the park as I wondered about their hygienic standards. The vendor is out there in the hot sun all day, handing food and money and heaven knows only what else. The standards at other places may be no better, but if I don’t see what’s going on the the back, I’m not worried; call it plausible deniability. As for the food itself, I much prefer to get something from Zabar’s and take it to the park.
The price list posted is way below what ALL the vendors are selling food for. Vendors are charging twice as much. What good is a city regulator if they don’t really regulate?
In my experience, vendors who are close to major tourist spots (museums, Central Park West, 5th Avenue, Columbus Circle, etc.) are the ones charging these outrageous prices. Up and down Broadway, Columbus, and Amsterdam Avenues, food cart prices are more reasonable. These are the vendors who make a living feeding repeat customers who live or work in the neighborhood.
I’m not understanding something: I opened your link for an official list of NYC food cart prices and was quite surprised: I regularly purchase 20 ounce bottles of Coca-Cola from various food carts in Central Park, and they’re always three dollars each. Before buying I always check the price list, which uniformly has confirmed the three-dollar price.
Question: If the official price is $2, as stated in the linked list, how can these food vendors openly post a $3 menu price? Aren’t they risking a fine/trouble from city inspectors? Or is the linked list merely suggested, not legal, prices of various foods? Thank you.
I knew someone who worked for a cart person. Needless to say the truth, you are looked as an opportunity when you approach a cart. The opportunity is contingent upon what the guy can get out of you for what you are interested in purchasing from him or her. The price signs are covered up generally or outdated, there is no receipt and what are you going to do in the moment? Nobody can help you in the moment it’s you and the cart person and no one else is around to regulate this untapped jewel. I think it’s an opportunity with work clothes on for all of us to discuss at community boards to enact change or at least a presentation on the carts and what if fair vs. unfair. All in all you may be being given the once over on what can be squeezed out of you and your credit card or wallet with no immediate relief available at all.
What a useful article. Thank you!!
Thanks for this! Always ask before you buy! Love your articles!
I agree that a “bait and switch” sales tactic is pretty unethical, however, I actually have a surprisingly different take on this…if the free market can bear it, why not charge $6 for a hot dog? I can’t imagine these cart workers are exactly raking in the cash day-to-day, and they have families to take care of — many are immigrants. Inflation is effecting us all so I honestly don’t blame them for trying to up a fee and capitalize on peoples need for convenience food & drink. As an aside, I would never eat anything off these carts (not just because I keep kosher) — the carts are filthy and never cleaned; the hot dogs sit in dirty water and at night the carts are all stored in the same location with rats crawling all over them. After all, these hot dogs are called “dirty water dogs” for a reason. The moral outrage over the hotdog cart vendors trying to make a living vs. the minimal liberal response to the bank robberies, assaults and stabbings/shootings is pretty telling.
only 5 bucks for a cone?? thats a steal-my friend ordered a milkshake from a cart at Battery Park and was charged $10
I never normally use these vendors but was with a friend recently whose kid wanted an ice cream and as they’d bought lunch I offered to get the dessert. We stopped at the cart between the Children’s Zoo and Billy Johnson playground at 65th. Two ice lollies and a bottle of water came to $18.50, I was flabbergasted. Worst thing was, the vendor kept trying to take my card off me to do the contactless payment out of my line of sight (which I refused). He used one of those small white contactless touch pads that doesn’t show you the amount you’re spending. I haven’t had my card statement yet but after reading this I will definitely be checking up on that one.
They can charge whatever they want, but by law they need to post their prices. Then people can make an informed decision.