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Why restaurant prices are so high, and how you can save

Restaurant prices have increased at a higher pace than the inflation rate.
Restaurant prices
Posted at 7:25 AM, Jun 14, 2024

Shoppers are finally seeing prices stabilize at the grocery store, but diners at restaurants are still experiencing a higher rate of inflation.

From fast food to your favorite sit-down restaurant, dining out is much more expensive, especially with a large family. So we wanted to know what's driving prices up and if there's any way for you to save.

Owners struggle to keep menu prices down

Chris Breeden owns a century-old restaurant, Arnold's Bar and Grill. He says soaring food prices are making dining out more challenging.

"It is definitely more expensive to eat out, which is pretty regrettable," he said.

While the consumer price index shows grocery prices leveling out in 2024, Breeden says that's not what he's seeing when it comes to his supplies, especially with meats. But he is looking for ways to keep costs down for diners.

"You can't just pass on a doubling of the price of French fries to the consumer," he said, "because no one is going to be paying $7 or $8 for a side of French fries."

That means smaller or fewer side items in most restaurants these days. Some have made salads, formerly included with the main dish, an extra side item.

Kristen Bailey, owner of the food truck Sweets and Meats Barbecue, doesn't have the overhead of a full-service restaurant, but she has had to cut back on expensive items to keep her prices affordable.

"With proteins being so high, with an item like brisket, I am losing 40% of what I am paying for it," she said.

University of Denver hospitality management professor David Corsun says higher utility bills, as well as higher labor costs, also drive menu prices up. And he says softening consumer demand is forcing some owners to rethink hours of operation.

"What we've seen is a concentration of dining out," he said. "That's basically Thursday through Saturday."

What can diners do?

He says one way to cut costs is to skip delivery services, which charge a fee to both you and the business. Instead, he says, "If you really want to support a local restaurant, order it and then pick it up."

To manage food costs:

  • Ask a restaurant about reward or loyalty points for future discounts
  • Skip the side of fries or appetizer
  • Pass on pricey cocktails that can add up quickly

Breeden just hopes diners understand that restaurants are not price gouging.
"There's a perfect storm brewing for us," he said. "Labor costs are up, and the cost of food is up."

So support your local restaurants as best you can, and don't waste your money.

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