Restaurants Coping with Inflation

Inflation is making restaurant owners, chefs and managers get even more creative to keep costs reasonable while still providing guests with stellar experiences.

NORMS Restaurants, a Southern California staple for more than 72 years, was challenged with remaining true to their brand and provide guests with a value proposition. Execs did not want to pass the burden of increased costs onto guests, who were accustomed to large portions with quality ingredients. For example, they offer a  ¾ Lb. Cowboy T-Bone Steak with soup, salad, two sides, and a dessert for $17.99.

“In order to keep distribution costs in check, we partnered with our distributors and suppliers by being more flexible, consolidating delivery days, and allowing later delivery window times when needed,” VP of Food & Beverage David Cox  told Modern Restaurant Management (MRM) magazine. “This, in turn, allowed them to leverage delivery routes and available labor, while also increasing drop sizes to offset fuel and labor costs.”

Cox says one way he is getting creative is by offering Limited Time Offers (LTOs).  

“We have done things like utilizing less expensive cuts of meat – such as pork loins – and relying heavily on culinary innovation, in addition to increasing the frequency of the offers, all in an effort to entice our guests and continue to provide them with incredible value.”

Ranbir Bhatia, General Manager of Benares in Wyckoff, NJ, says they have also been bearing the higher costs and trying not to pass them on to guests for as long as possible. 

“We raised our prix-fixe lunch price by $1 and have increased catering prices minimally. The à la carte menu pricing has remained the same.”

Bhatia says this strategy has kept a steady flow of good customers that, in the long run, keeps business steady—rather than raising prices by a bigger margin and having people who only come once in a while. Showing empathy for their customer base has also proven beneficial.

“Our motto these days is, 'we are all in the same boat,' struggling, paying more for groceries, etc., Bhatia said. “Even when the pandemic first hit, we offered discounts on take-out because we wanted to maintain business while being sensitive to people who lost their jobs. Efforts like that have gotten a lot of support from the community and actually increased some aspects of the business.”

Thomas Ciszak, Executive Chef/Owner, Brasserie Mémère. In Closter, NJ says there is no easy solution, just easing the pain at this moment. 

“We had a meeting and I mentioned to the team that I am conflicted about raising our prices,” Cizak said. “We always try to sell our product at a fair price. We can only pass the cost onto our guests so far.”

Cizak says they will not raise prices across the board just to catch up to additional costs because that will result in lower guest counts. 

“As always, guest service, quality, and making a more meaningful connection with the guest will ultimately grow the business. At a minimum, will get the restaurant through the difficult times. Creating guest loyalty is key."

Among the practical approaches he’s taking to reduce operating costs: menu changes, cross utilization of items, shorter operating hours and renegotiating service contracts.