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Going 360: Examining impacts of inflation on in-person restaurant dining

Customers dine in at a Kansas City-area restaurant
Posted at 4:34 PM, Jan 19, 2023

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — As Kansas City Restaurant Week looks to draw in new customers and the impacts of inflation continue to be felt, KSHB 41 wanted to take the topic of dining out 360.

In this story, you’ll hear from:

  • Restaurant Owners 
  • Customers 
  • Kansas State University Agricultural Economics professor 
  • KC Restaurant Association 

Restaurant Owners

Some people who run restaurants are adapting their menus.

The fish on the menu at Roots Seasonal Cuisine is a shift from what their regulars want. Rising prices cut the seabass from the menu.

“It was great,” said Amanda Accurso, owner/chef of Roots Seasonal Cuisine. “Honestly, it was mouthwatering.”

With rotating seasonal options, owners Accurso and Brandon Sharp can slice what they need to and fold in other, more readily available ingredients.

At the Local Pig and Pigwich, co-owner Matt Kafka sources his meats from local farmers.

He says that keeps protein prices fairly consistent.

“One of the areas where we are not insulated is labor,” he said. “Processing of animals has gotten more expensive, meaning the labor to process those animals.”

Both restaurants want to keep the experience consistent.

“If it just keeps increasing and increasing, they don’t know when it’s going to end,” Kafka said. “We want to make sure they have a stable environment where they know how much they are going to spend when they come here.”

Customers

Customers we happened to talk to told us inflation doesn’t really change the way they dine out.

“I find myself eating out a little bit less, but not that drastically less,” Sheng Jie Lim said.

This summer, sit-down restaurant sales have rebounded to pre-pandemic levels.

That’s from a recent study by restaurant software provider, Toast.

Customers say prices are rising no matter where they turn.

“The truth is, restaurants have had to raise their prices, but you find the same thing at the grocery store,” Karen Cardwell said.

Kansas City, Kansas, resident Darold Bunce is finding a balance.

“We do find that we are able to usually get a couple of meals out of when we go out to eat nowadays,” he said, explaining that he can stretch one meal from a restaurant to last a couple of meals. “Now that I am a few years older, it kind of works out that way.”

Kansas State University Agricultural Economics professor

The rising cost of food starts at the source, according to professor Glenn Tonsor at Kansas State University.

“Costs are higher, costs are higher, costs are higher is the punchline,” he said. “And inflation is not unique to any sector.”

Tonsor said your favorite cut of meat costs more because prices for that animal’s food, the labor to process the animal and the gas to get it to your table are all higher.

The most recent Consumer Price Index shows inflation has slowed. Tonsor says we won’t know if that’s true for a few months.

The Meat Demand Monitor, which is published at K-State, says 30% of people are buying less of their favorite brands, while 16% are straying away from their favorite cuts of meat.

“Meat protein is still highly desired in the US. Beef, pork, chicken are consumed at high rates throughout the US,” Tonsor said.

“So there are a lot of folks Abby, who I believe are exactly in your situation,” Tonsor continued. “They want to keep eating meat and they are finding ways to keep meat protein in their diet.”

Greater Kansas City Restaurant Association

An accountant by trade, Bill Teel has owned a restaurant.

Now he helps other owners in Kansas City in his position as the executive director of the Greater Kansas City Restaurant Association.

He says restaurants are already working with thin margins and inflation easily cuts into it.

“So, when you start seeing your prices go up you have to react. You have to do something,” he said.

To keep plates affordable to everyone involved, Teel says restaurants have a few options.

Those include portion control, slight price increases or switching out menu items.

He says these restaurants have to get creative.

Teel reminds us that over the last few years restaurants have practiced adaptability daily, from shutdowns, to carryout orders and crowd restrictions.

“You just keep adjusting. You keep trying different things. You know, nobody wants to give up,” he said.

Inflation is just the latest test in creating the best experience for their customers.

As part of KSHB 41 News' commitment to providing context and depth in our reporting, we've excited to share our latest project, which we're calling 360. This project takes stories and topics that our communities are talking about and explores different perspectives on the issue. You can be a part of the process by e-mailing your ideas and thoughts to us at 360@kshb.com.