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We’re paying more for restaurant meals

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People dine at a restaurant at Union Station in Washington, D.C., May 12, 2021.

Restaurant prices are rising because of higher commodity prices and higher wages for employees. Businesses are passing those costs along to consumers. Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

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The Bureau of Labor Statistics released its monthly consumer price index Thursday, which tells us whether prices for various goods have gone up. One category that saw a decent jump was food away from home: Restaurant prices are up 4% compared to May of last year, which is explained in part by the pandemic.

But they’ve also been increasing over the past few months. Why is that? It really comes down to the fact that costs are going up for restaurants, and they’re passing those along to customers.

“So, for example, commodity prices for food have been on the rise,” said Dana Peterson, chief economist at The Conference Board. Red meat, chicken, seafood — it’s all getting more expensive. So are supplies like pizza boxes, and so is shipping.

Another factor? “Many restaurants are finding it difficult to find workers,” Peterson said, because people left the industry during the pandemic or found other jobs that pay better or have better working conditions. So restaurants have raised wages to attract workers. They’re passing that cost on, too.

Andrew Rigie, executive director at the New York City Hospitality Alliance, said this all comes at a tricky time.

“Restaurants owe an enormous amount of back rent, they have tons of debt, and they’re trying to figure out how to manage that,” Rigie said.

He said higher prices could turn off some customers, but those in the restaurant industry are hoping that’ll be offset by people’s desire to get out of their houses and socialize after more than a year of lockdowns.

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