Rising restaurant prices


Media reports have lately focused on the rising costs of beef, pork, poultry, eggs, milk and limes (which settled back into their regular price range after a brief spike threatened the future of margaritas) but local restaurateurs say the harsh winter and California drought have bumped up the cost of everything from lettuce to grouper.

"By the time it makes it to the news, we've already felt it," The Indigo Road's executive chef, Jeremiah Bacon, says of recent stories covering the 7.4 percent increase in beef prices between March 2013 and March 2014. Pork prices leaped 5.32 percent in the same period, while seafood prices rose by 5.9 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

"These record prices are here to stay," a USDA economist last month told CNN, citing exports to Asia as another aggravating factor. Bacon suspects intense weather could continue this summer, creating hardships for farmers and fishermen and further driving up ingredient costs.

Still, most chefs and restaurant-goers are apparently taking the price hikes in stride. "I think (customers) sort of expect it," Bacon says of the high prices charged for beef.

At Burwell's Stone Fire Grill, management tacked an additional two bucks onto the prices of the filet mignon and bone-in rib eye. "With the minor price change, guests have been unaware or at least understanding," owner Ken Emery says. "The filet mignon sells no matter what the price is."

Bacon says The Indigo Road's restaurants have adjusted menu prices when necessary. Although costs fluctuate with the seasons, Oak Steakhouse this year only had to increase the price of one item. The dry-aged, bone-in rib-eye now costs $4 more than it did in 2013.

The Macintosh nearly struck deckle, also known as the rib-eye cap, from its menu when the cut's wholesale price rose. "We never wanted anything over $30," Bacon explains. But the restaurant retained the popular dish, switching to another supplier and increasing the plate's price to $35. It's still selling.

Expensive seafood and produce can pose a bigger problem, since they're widely perceived as affordable.

"Our most popular dish was Brussels sprouts, which have also skyrocketed," Emery says. "So much so that we had to temporarily remove it from our menu selection. This does not go unnoticed, yet (customers) completely understand."

Demand has helped increase the price for various fish, many of which were classified as "trash fish" before environmentalists and chefs began actively celebrating their flavors and role in the marine ecosystem. Bacon estimates the cost of triggerfish has tripled since he started serving it.