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  • Cooper Ray

Inflation affects cost of local dining

A local restaurant in downtown West Palm Beach, Florida. (Photo courtesy: Jasmine Lien)

The current, volatile economic state of the U.S. impacts all industries, including the food industry. With the rate of economic inflation currently impacting all business domestically, prices have risen across the board. This poses a unique challenge for restaurant owners, as well as their customers. Local dining and restaurants are an element of any local economy, and in Palm Beach, Florida, restaurants rely on consistent patronage to stay afloat. As prices continue to climb, dining at family-owned restaurants and small businesses becomes more expensive. In order to keep up with the increased cost of the materials and ingredients necessary to operate their restaurants, owners must reflect this in the prices of menu items. John Alfano, a representative from Doris Italian market and bakery, explained how this economic inflation has affected prices in their establishment. “Just like other industries, not just the grocery business, there has been a rise in the cost of some products,” Alfano said. With this rise in price, some changes were reflected within the establishment. “Sometimes the cost of goods increases, and is reflected in a price change. The prices in our café in our North Palm Beach location have stayed pretty steady,” Alfano said. A price change also has the potential to affect an establishment’s business. However, Alfano says that it has not impacted the storefront negatively. “Business, particularly leading up to the holidays, remains brisk. We have popular packages that are cost-effective for consumers,” Alfano said. This causes concern for businesses that rely on the affordable price of grocery products. Doris Italian market operates both as a dining location and a grocery store, but inflation has also affected standalone dining establishments. Ramen Lab Eatery is a South Florida restaurant with four locations, one being in West Palm Beach within the popular Grandview Public Market. The vendor offers authentic ramen and bowls. Owner and founder of Ramen Lab Eatery Louis Grayson has seen the trend of price increases in all aspects of his restaurant. “There has been a significant increase on all food and material items. We have seen this year over 100% increase on almost all of our food items, and it has been a challenge for us as a restaurant,” Grayson said. The base price of ingredients has also caused difficulty for Ramen Lab Eatery. “We had to adjust our prices and even take some items off the menu because it was not feasible. For example, a case of cauliflower used to be around $30, now we are seeing cauliflower at $80 to $100,” Grayson said. With the new price of ingredients requiring more income to purchase, the restaurant had to respond by increasing the price of menu items to compensate. “The increase in price from food and materials make it harder for smaller restaurants to be able to manage the day to day, and (is) squeezing the margins for independent restaurant," Grayson said. "It is challenging to charge customers at a lower price now because this is the new norm for us.” This inflation has not only affected the price of food in local restaurants, but also affected every part of the business. With rising costs, labor has also increased. Since employees need to be paid more to make an appropriate wage, costs in restaurants continue to rise in this regard as well. “Overall not only has food and materials gone up in price, affecting our business, but also labor cost increase and cost of living increase has affected the restaurant industry,” Grayson said. Customers also play a role in the financial success of a restaurant. When menu prices increase, new expectations are put forward by the customer, as they are spending more for what they had previously eaten for less. “Customers are now less forgiving when there is a mistake, or wait time for food. And we notice that when customers are choosing a restaurant to dine out at, they want an overall experience, and a restaurant worth going out to, not just an average experience. Guests want the prices to match the experience," Grayson said. "We have been retraining our staff to up our service etiquette, and making sure the ambience and platings are up to par to be worth an experience for customers dining with us.” In our local dining economy, all levels of business have been affected. With difficulty for both restaurants and customers, both parties have to give more effort to dining endeavors. As inflation continues to rise, so will the challenges of the dining industry. By Cooper Ray

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