Big Apple restaurateurs are fighting inflation by shrinking portion sizes and switching out costly ingredients in a bid to avoid hiking already-stiff menu prices.
At Noir, a supper club in Chelsea, executive chef John Dewine made the “tough decision” to raise some prices while keeping other dishes — already pricey — the same. Maine lobster tails are still $38, but they are four ounces instead of five, while a $24 appetizer of vegan gyoza dumplings now consists of an order of five instead of six.
“This is the way we are dealing with inflation. Everything is a little more petite,” Dewine said.
The belt-tightening comes as the cost of labor and produce spike, while foot traffic remains uneven because office workers and tourists have not fully returned.
Chef Franklin Becker, who oversees restaurants at the uptown food hall Manhattan Market, says he has become more creative — from new happy hour specials to “buying right … and making sure the product is utilized from end to end.”
For example, Becker says, he serves hangar steak at Oliva, then turns the unused scraps into kofta, a Middle Eastern ground beef patty, which is available at his other fast casual Israeli restaurant, Shai.
And when his staff shells peas, the discarded shells are used to make broth.
“I don’t believe in waste, I never did,” Becker said. “But now you better figure out how to make money out of your by-product.”
Those who have been forced to raise prices – even slightly – have seen cash-strapped diners order cheaper items.
“Brisket is our most popular dish. But now more people are ordering the brisket tacos and sandwiches,” said Matthew Glazier, co-owner of Morgan’s Brooklyn BBQ in Flatbush and the nearby Tiny’s Cantina. “You can tell that people are making price based decisions. People are buying the Buick, not the Cadillac.”
At Lolo’s Seafood Shack in Harlem, Chef Raymond Mohan and Leticia Skai Young upped the price of six chicken wings to $12 from $10 — and added a combo basket with fries for $14.
“When the price went up, people asked what they get with the chicken wings, so we created the basket, as well as cost effective lunch specials at $9.99 that attract more people,” Young said.
Aside from the rising price of produce, there are other hidden costs, says restaurateur James Mallios, managing partner of Civetta Hospitality’s Amali on the Upper East Side, Calissa in the Hamptons, Bar Marseille in the Rockaways and Juniper in Westbury, Long Island.
For example, sunflower oil soared from $60 a jug to $140, partly because war-ravaged Ukraine was the largest exporter of the product.
“So we had to go to canola or a blend, which is still $60 a jug, but used to be $25,” Mallios said, adding that the restaurants use around three jugs for their fryers.
Even the price of paper goods has shot up, which cuts into revenue for take-out business, said the owners of Lolo’s.
“It’s an impossible situation. Food and labor costs have skyrocketed, but you can only increase menu prices so much,” said Andrew Rigie, executive director of the New York City Hospitality Alliance “It’s a crushing storm, and customers have options. … A couple on a date might now share an appetizer, order a glass instead of a bottle of wine and skip dessert.”
These couples will spend the same as before, Rigie added, but more often than not they are getting less for their money.