The “going rate” is an idiomatic English term referring to the standard price of an item or service. The going rate also can be applied to salaries. The going rate is the rate someone would expect to pay for a service such as baby-sitting.
By using the term as a question — such as, “What is the going rate?” — the person asking is indicating he is uncertain of the current standard market value for the item or service in question. This infers that the item or service — baby-sitting, for example — fluctuates in price. It may also suggest the potential customer has not bought the service or item for a long time and is therefore unsure how much the cost has gone up.
If a customer knows the standard rate for a service, then he will be better able to judge whether what he is buying offers good value for the money. Take the baby-sitting example again. If the going rate for a baby sitter is $10 US Dollars (USD) an hour, then a customer might feel he has received a good deal if he pays only $8 USD an hour.
By the same token, a baby sitter may charge twice the going rate for his or her services. The parents are likely to expect a better service in return. Expectations may go up or go down, depending on how much the service charge varies compared to the going rate.
The standard price for a service or item is not set by any one person or company. To determine the going rate a customer must research a large number of companies or people offering the same service. Companies are unlikely to use the term, which is colloquial and informal. They are more likely to use a phrase such as market value or recommended retail price (RRP).
The term is more likely to be used informally between people. Using the baby-sitting example, a person would expect a couple in need of a baby sitter to phone their friends, relatives and neighbors. To learn what the appropriate rate is they might ask another couple with children about what they should pay.
With regards to salaries, the expression is most likely to turn up in an informal discussion. For example, two old friends meet while playing golf. One says he is an architect, at which point the other might ask, “What is the going rate for an architect these days?” The question is an indirect way of asking the other man’s salary.