Pine Belt restaurants cope with rocketing food prices

HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - It's a fact: food prices are on the rise. It may come as no surprise with trips to the grocery store adding up to more than usual, but for the restaurant industry – it can be damaging.

"Dairy, beef, poultry, seafood - those proteins are higher than they've been in about 25 years," said Brownstone's restaurant owner Joel Edwards.

In 2012, restaurants are coping with higher prices for commodities – their ingredients – which makes the final product on your plate cost more, even if you are not paying more.
"So far we've eaten (the cost) and never raised our prices in four years, but it's something we have to consider for sure," said Owner and Executive Chef of Hattiesburg restaurants 206 Front and Bianchi's Pizzeria.  

Tabella Managing Partner Clint Taylor said the same. "We're hanging on, and to be honest with you we've eaten a little bit for the customers."

If the menu prices at your favorite haunts have not risen, that means it is just making less. But every eatery is looking for ways to get by - substituting ingredients in recipes, layoffs, better promotions, cutting everything from portion sizes to the cost of cleaning supplies.

"Occasionally we have to remove an item from a menu because we're just taking our lumps on it, and sometimes it might be an item that's a guest favorite but it's just killing us to purchase the product and bring it in," said Taylor.

In a National Restaurant News survey, 67 percent of eateries said their menu prices will tick up this year.

"It is really and truly difficult for all restaurants the last eight months , I don't care who they are. It's been very very difficult," said Edwards.

Even popular food chains like Olive Garden and Buffalo Wild Wings reported that their menu items will go up by two percent or more this year.

Gas prices are high, but this is happening now largely because of the weather last year; frosts, floods and droughts ruined crops that would be food on shelves now. Customers feel the inflation from a food shortage months after crops actually die - so it is now that we have less wheat, corn and other products that the country demands – leading prices to shoot up.

And wrapped into the chain reaction - meat and dairy. Animal feed is pricier so animal products are too.

The United State Department of Agriculture has said that the first half of this year will see the highest prices, and that they should start dropping back down in the later part of this year, so prices may be up for awhile.