For those who have started dining out again – whether inside or out, I’m sure you’ve noticed a difference on the menu.
Not only are the prices higher, but higher food costs and staff shortages create a shorter item list and often with fewer ingredients and sides. According to Datassential, which analyzed more than 4,800 menus across the United States, in 2021, 60% of restaurants said they had reduced their menu size. Most of the shortages were reported at gourmet establishments, with the number of items declining by 23%.
The consumer price index for out-of-home food, which includes shopping at restaurants, rose 5.8% in the past year, the biggest 12-month increase since 1982, according to the BLS. They found that restaurants are focusing on reducing the amount of appetizers and desserts. The Wall Street Journal reports that some restaurants are now placing more emphasis on preparing ingredients in advance, such as fresh pasta which is then frozen in bulk.
The sad news is that after seeing an increase in in-person meal sales earlier this year, emerging new variants of Covid-19 are causing restaurant reservations to slow. Catering is a tricky business at all times – but only one trying to operate during a pandemic with finicky customers. According to the National Restaurant Association, we’ve seen more than 110,000 restaurants close since the start of the pandemic – and I’m afraid many more will follow.
There are millions of kitchen workers and waiters who are out of work – the lucky ones may have changed careers – the unlucky have had to deal with angry customers who come to their restaurants ready to fight over prices , missing menu items and yes, even wearing masks if the city mandated this protocol. Horror stories make the evening news.
The pandemic is not over, and some experts say it will continue for months. Broadway has closed again, large companies that had planned to reopen their offices in January have postponed their return-to-work schedules. This is not a food service problem that we have to deal with – it is a national problem – that demands that we all provide mutual respect and understanding to our fellow human beings if we are to survive.
Happy New Year everyone, and I hope this is the time when we give ourselves even more compassion than usual; especially in restaurants.