Why Your Favorite Restaurant Menu May Have Changed During COVID
If you’ve managed to overcome your stifling fear of being around other people during a pandemic, you may have gone out to eat in a restaurant recently. And when you were there, you probably noticed some changes on a menu even though you thought you knew that menu like the back of your hand. COVID has changed pretty much every single aspect of our lives and restaurant menus are no different. The biggest change is that some restaurants don’t even have actual menus anymore and they have to be downloaded onto our phone with a QR code, but there are a few modifications that might need explanation.
Fewer menu items to choose from. Predicting how much food to purchase and prepare for a typical restaurant shift is a logistical miracle that requires talent, experience, and a little bit of fortunetelling. A Friday night blessed with perfect weather and a Tuesday night that has a blizzard will require very different amounts of food. What was a difficult job has gotten even more complicated during COVID and lot of restaurants have pared down their menu to help with food costs. If there used to be two fish entrees and now there is only one, it’s because no chef wants to have a cooler full of fresh salmon that’s a day away from going bad. With the uncertainty of how many customers are willing to go out to eat each night, a restaurant would rather run out of food than be stuck with the leftovers. For the restaurants depending on outdoor dining, a simple thunderstorm can mean that a lot of food that was bought may not get used. You might also be seeing fewer of your favorite things because they’re so expensive to make and restaurants are cutting corners where they can. Ground beef is a lot cheaper than ribeye steaks. Soups are easier to make and have a longer shelf life than another appetizers like crab cakes, so don’t be surprised when your favorite menu item is no longer there.
Higher prices. Fewer customers, reduced hours and a smaller menu means that restaurants have to make up that loss of revenue somehow and what better way than to pass it on to the consumer? Of course these aren’t the only reasons prices are going up. At the beginning of the pandemic, meat processing plants were hit hard with COVID infections, forcing closures and shutdowns. Beef production will be hindered for the rest of the year “due to COVID-19 challenges at meatpacking facilities,” said the USDA. If the restaurant is paying more for food, then you will too. Some cities have also allowed restaurants to add a COVID-19 surcharge to the bill to help with additional costs. Beginning on October 16th, restaurants in New York City are allowed to add a surcharge of up to 10% of the bill. It’s up to each restaurant owner whether they add it or not, but if they do, it must be clearly noted on the menu and the receipt. Some owners worry that adding the charge will deter customers from dining out while servers worry that it will detract from their tip. A restaurant can choose to not take advantage of the new law and simply raise the overall prices. Either way, that’s why menu items are more expensive.
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No more happy hour. This is a clear case of restaurants needing to make every dollar they can. When there was no such thing as social distancing, customers were willing to sit at bar packed in like sardines just so they could take advantage of half-price margaritas. That’s not an option anymore and restaurant can’t afford to do it. If customers have to sit six feet away from each other, there is no quantity of margaritas that a restaurant can sell that will allow them to be at half the cost. Instead of a happy hour, expect to see slightly higher cocktail prices. For some reason, customers will balk at paying $25 for a cheeseburger but have no problem shelling out $18 for a top-shelf martini. Maybe restaurant owners know that the only way some customers can make it through these crazy COVID times is by downing one overpriced cocktail after another.