Increasing Costs of Dining Out

There have been a lot of stories in the press about costs going up everywhere including in restaurants. One of my primary forms of recreation is dining out. I enjoy everything from street food bought from carts eaten precariously on side of a planter in midtown to high end dining at the overwrought temples of food and everything in between. We have been dining out whenever restaurants were open through the past two years. Indoors and out. Its clear to me that everything is costing more. The street carts that I pick up lunch during the work week in midtown have raised their prices at least 10%. I don’t often eat at McD’s but I went with some of the guys from work to try their new chicken sandwich and was surprised to have my meal combo cost $12. Then there’s the real jump for dining in what I would call a solid but not fancy sit down restaurant where there’s a person who really knows what to do in a kitchen. Not a place that draws in people from away. Solid cooking, comfortable setting and attentive service.

We have a nice bistro style place within walking distance. Good spot for a casual dinner. Went a few times during the past year and a half when there would be hardly anyone there due to the unknown fears of dining out and the menu was limited because of their inability to source ingredients. On our last visit, the dining room was very active. There were 3 of us having dinner. We each had a starter and main and shared a couple of desserts. As we hadn’t seen each other in a while, we spent a lot of time talking and lingered over two bottles of wine. Not particularly expensive bottles. Bill was almost $400. After tip, we were closing in on $500. I was sort of surprised that we had spent so much. This wasn’t a fancy meal. But looking at the prices on the print out, everything was significantly higher than what a meal two years ago would have been.

Cost of ingredients up, staff pay higher, extra cleaning expenses. Perhaps the only thing that hasn’t gone up for them is rent.

If you want to eat in a restaurant where someone takes your order, someone else makes your food to that order and another person cleans up, you’re going to have to pay a lot more for that experience. Not a complaint. Just an observation.

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Similar experience on the eastern side of the Atlantic.

Food costs are up. Staffing is a major problem.

We’ve been hit by the double whammy of Covid and Brexit. On the one hand, many British restaurant workers have left the industry, having found easier, better paid jobs during the pandemic. My nephew bein one - he is not going back to cheffing. And right across the industry and its supply chain, many workers from other European countries have returned home - some because of Covid, others because of Brexit. And many from eastern Europe have realised that their home economies have improved through membership of the European Union, so have no need to move abroad to find decent paying jobs. They won’t be back.

I don’t know what the long term solution is going to be. On the one hand, folk say that employers will have to pay more and that will attract British workers. But, pre-Covid, we had high rates of employment. If Britons move from one sector to another, following better pay, that leaves gaps in low paid industries like agriculture or social care. We cannot magic up more bodies, having effectively told our foreign workers they are no longer welcome here.

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We paid $500 plus last night, part of six, financial district in SF. They explicitly stated there was a percentage charge for certain rules or regulations.
On the way , there a Chipotle’s advertising a $20.50 starting salary. I wish they had advertised benefits.

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That’s the rub from higher pay. Higher pay has to be paid from somewhere. The only where you have is in higher prices if you want to keep the same quality as the the restaurant business isn’t known for high profit margins.

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I was hoping that Covid would lead to change in the industry, with health care and paid sick days part of a decent wage for both FOH and kitchen staff. It seems to make sense from a public health perspective, doesn’t it? Though wide spread change doesn’t appear imminent, perhaps there’s cause for optimism. Staff shortages may be giving restaurant workers more leverage. Of course the costs of dining out will go up, but if it results in a more sustainable industry, wouldn’t that be for the best?

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I agree. But if that happens, it just means fewer people will be eating out as often. I think people should be paid a wage that covers their cost of living along with basic benefits. I don’t want to wade into the tipping or not conundrum here. But if wages and benefits go up, then the cost of dining out will make it an occasional thing for more people. I expect the fast casual dining places will bear the brunt of the loss of business.

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Interesting. If a Chipotle employee is going to be paid $20 an hour to scoop beans or avocado onto a tortilla this year, how long will it be before a robot does it for much less and there are half as many people working at Chipotle?
Because a minimum skill employee simply isn’t worth $15 an hour in many cases, let alone $20 an hour. So if the law is that a employee must be paid that much per hour, the robotic replacements are nearly inevitable for some positions. Or inexpensive cafe food will largely be a thing of the past. If the wage had been ramped up slowly it might have worked longer, but a rapid increase in the minimum wage may be counterproductive. Perhaps we will see a return to the Automat sort of meal presentation/prep? I am not sure.

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Visited a new Panera in the neighborhood today. All ordering is done at kiosks and the only people working in the store are in the kitchen prepping the food. You get a text when your order is ready. Not any more expensive but more work on the customer side. Payment cards instead of nickels in today’s automat I guess.

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Fast casual is where I am noticing the increases the most. Last night we ordered salads from Fresh & Co., a fast casual chain with locations in NYC and Westchester. Two salads - with grilled salmon for me and grilled chicken for my husband - ended up costing nearly $60 with tax, tip and delivery. Eating in would have been $40+, though, so the delivery fees weren’t the whole story. I don’t mind paying for good food or good service, but I’ll think twice before paying that price for a very average salad again.

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It is a conundrum. I don’t see a sustainable model either way. The public health angle, though, is an imperative I didn’t think much about until Covid.

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Certainly, pre-Covid that has been the case in the UK, with a number of national chains downsizing significantly orgoing out of business completely. Meanwhile, high end places that we’ve been to in recent months have seemed to be as busy as usual. Similarly, independents out in the suburbs also seem to be busy.

I lived in NYC full time until 2001. Since then I return twice a year for 6-8 weeks each trip. In our current location we out on average 30-40 meals a month. Because of Covid I was unable to return to NY since Sept 2019. when I finally went back in October this year, I was shocked at how much restaurant prices had gone up. Every meal in every type of restaurant was up 25-50%. My wife was thinking she would like to move back to NYC but after seeing restaurant prices and realizing we’d have to cook at home much more often, we’re not going anywhere.

My original hope was that Covid would make restaurants more efficient. Limited seating would mean that reservations would be required at all restaurant. Pre-order and pre-pay would mean less food waste for restaurants. A 7:00pm reservation would mean your food could be on the table at 7:10. A shorter stay might mean less of a health risk. Maybe lower prices for 4:00pm dinners. Pre-ordering might lead to a smaller staff. Alas, the only thing that changed was the prices.

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You can see the effect of higher pay already in fast food places on the use of kiosks and ordering apps. There is a single cashier at the the McD’s I went to but a ton of ordering kiosks. The only other staff were making the food and handing it out. If there is a way to automate the food prep process more, I would guess that it will happen.

We went out to dinner last night to what I think would be called a gastro pub. Very good food in a nice setting. Service was very slow. Dinner took nearly two hours. Two people working the dining room. Prices there were probably a little higher than pre Covid. But it’s clear that the staffing is down. Reminded me of dining out in France. Service there was slow by old US standards as the higher pay requirements resulted in less staffing. My guess is that is a very likely outcome. More reasonably priced places will have fewer staff to keep costs down. Higher end will be largely less affected as at that price point the staff is already highly paid through much larger tips.

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Treading on the political here, but people should earn a living wage for 8 hours work. That they are not now able to do that means that some working people are subsidizing others who have been enjoying prices that don’t really reflect the value of what they receive. Or in the practical world, diners have been getting a deal in terms of kitchen and service workers’ labor. It’s one thing to say that dining out is getting expensive and another to say that we are now approaching paying for what we have been getting.
Having someone cook for and clean up for us isn’t a right but a choice of how we spend our own wages.

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Because eating is an everyday occurrence for most, there seems a tendency to view eating out through the personal lens of processing groceries at home or unwrapping and plating a take out meal. You are entirely correct that it is easy not to assign the value of personal time and similar household overhead to those same cost items that are part and parcel of every restaurant meal, and that observations and complaints about the cost of dining out mostly identify without specifying the value-added, whether convenience or entertainment, aspect of taking a seat in a restaurant.

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Something I’d certainly agree with. In my country, we have an active campaign that the “living wage” should be the national minimum wage. Otherwise, the general taxpayer is subsidising low paying employers by funding social welfare payments. And, yes, I know that the “living wage” would still attract some welfare payments, but we would be on our way to ridding society of the indignity of low pay…

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We dine out twice a week (on the weekend), and the prices have really shot up since Covid. Meals that used to cost around $120 including tip at BYO’s are now costing over $200. Appetizers that used to go for $15 now go for over $20. I used to balk at entrees priced at $40. Those same entrees now go for over $50 / $60. I don’t mind paying the extra money for good food and service, but will not pay triple retail price for a bottle of wine, which is why we only go to BYOs. We have a small rotation of restaurants that we support, that treat us like family.

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This is an interesting observation. We dine out regularly. Several times a week. And I like to drink. I’m quite hard on my liver. :crazy_face:

Given the mark up on drinks, drinkers are very heavily subsidizing the food. In my experience it’s not at all unusual to have the cost of the alcohol be more than the food. Paying for a bottle of wine at 3x retail is robbery. 3x wholesale I get, but 3x retail on a pedestrian bottle of wine is a crime. The way I avoid knowing I’m being robbed is by focusing on wines that I know I’m unlikely to find in a wine shop. So last night we had an Austrian red. Don’t see a lot of those so I have no idea as to the mark up.

But what really has been striking is the increase in the price of a cocktail. Sure I get it’s somewhat of a skill to make drinks but $2 worth of liquor and two cents of ice and 30 seconds of shaking doesn’t mean you added $18 of value. But I guess it’s a public service as the prices make sure that you’re not likely to get that drunk.

There used to be this spiral of pricing driven by increasing rents that drove higher prices for food and drinks. Maybe one benefit of Covid will be a break in the rents so that may offset other rising costs.

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I avoid it by checking the retail price of the wine on my cell phone. Since I’m not all that knowledgeable about what my wine store carries, outside of the bottles I usually get.

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Speaking of BYO, that policy can provide guidance about dining out. The corkage fee advice of several places we tend to patronize says to the effect: “fine with us, if your bottle is not on our list”. We never order anything we can cook halfway satisfactorily, leaving a pretty large universe ranging from McDonald’s fries, to dim sum, to etc. . . . that’s the idea. Having long ago quickly figured out Nobu’s black cod, for us it’s not about how much the restaurant charges, but enjoying what others do better than we can.

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