Why It's Getting More Expensive to Eat Out

Going out to eat is often how we treat ourselves, whether it's for a lunch break or for an entire evening. For most of us, paying someone else to prepare our food (and do the dishes) isn't sustainable for every meal. Unfortunately, we may wind up scaling back even more going forward.

USA Today reports that full-service restaurant prices nationwide increased nearly 3 percent between January 2018 and January 2019, at more than a full percentage point above the rate of inflation. In December alone, prices increased by half a percent — and it's not because of the price of food, which has remained stable. Instead, the already difficult restaurant industry is facing increased costs in other arenas.

Rent and insurance are partly the reason, but one of the most salient new costs is greatly expanded minimum wages in certain states and cities. While the federal minimum hourly wage remains $7.25 for now, the minimum wage for tipped workers sits at a measly $2.13. With low unemployment and better opportunities available to many workers, some restaurants may have no choice but to offer better compensation. Some critics go farther, pointing out that a business that can't pay a living wage can only survive by exploiting its employees and artificially lowering prices.

The benefits of paying your workers more can be huge, even starting at an extra dollar per hour. Employees with better protections, like guaranteed sick time, are both happier and ultimately less expensive for their employers. We tend to get down on ourselves for spending on "things we don't need," but given our love of ethical supply chains, we might find the adjustment to our budgets worth it.