For years, consumers have had to pay less for restaurant meals than true restaurant costs justify. But the confluence of high inflation, supply chain snags, a difficult labor market, and a host of other post-pandemic operating changes has finally made that approach untenable — and restaurant operators are having to pass more costs on to consumers to stay afloat.
The National Restaurant Association’s restaurant business conditions survey found that 15 percent of restaurant operators added surcharges of some kind this year. The fees range from around 3-5 percent and may cover costs as varied as health insurance, inflation, credit card fees or tap water.
Consumers, as you might expect, aren’t happy about the added costs. Nowadays it’s easy to find viral content on social media that takes issue with them. While consumers might support the need to pay for what these fees cover, they dislike being surprised with multiple line-item fee additions at the end of a meal — then be prompted by a tip screen on top of it.
We’re at an important pivot point with regard to transforming the employee culture in restaurants and having a cost structure that supports that instead of leaving it to consumers. But until that shakes out, restaurant operators will likely face some push and pull with regard to managing costs and determining how to make them palatable to guests. Where it’s possible, spread these costs out across your menu so you can avoid surprise surcharges tacked on at the end of the meal.
Where there is a positive story to tell about what you’re charging — such as the efforts you’re making to improve restaurant employee benefits like healthcare, for example — share it with guests. A line of text written at the bottom of your menu, website and social media platforms can help you leave guests with the final impression that they are helping you do something good. It may even help bring them back to support you again in the future.