Rising prices mean changing Fresno restaurant menus
Have you noticed restaurants adding boneless wings or chicken thighs to their menus? Or maybe your favorite avocado dish is no longer on the menu?
As the cost of food and other restaurant supplies skyrockets, restaurants in Fresno are getting creative with how they deal with the rising cost of doing business.
Part of this carries over to what you as a consumer see when dining out, especially on menus. Restaurants often don’t advertise these changes, but a keen eye can spot some.
Prices paid by restaurants have skyrocketed on everything from eggs and beef to fresh vegetables, frying oil and polystyrene take-out containers.
Several factors are to blame, including supply issues, rising wages and rising demand as the world recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic. The war in Ukraine is also driving up the prices of fuel used to deliver these goods, as well as grain exported from the region.
Yes, restaurants increase the prices of starters that you order at the table. Average menu prices rose 6.9% from March 2021 to March this year – the biggest 12-month increase since 1981.
But they can’t pass on all those increases, or it would drive customers away, noted Raul Gutierrez Jr., owner of Papi’s Mex Grill and president of the Fresno chapter of the California Restaurant Association.
Instead, they find other ways to cut costs, including changing the menu or cutting staff.
Chicken wings and avocados
There was a shortage of chicken wings last year and this year. The supply was down and the traditional chicken wings with bones became very expensive.
Boneless wings, usually made from breast meat, were more affordable. Since the chickens only have two wings, but more breast meat, the greater availability has kept prices low.
So many restaurants, like Wingstop and Applebee’s, have turned to promoting boneless wings.
“A lot of restaurants have stuck with the boneless because it’s so much cheaper. You can take any part of that bird — basically dark meat and white meat — and create a boneless piece,” said Gutierrez.
The customer pays the same price, but the restaurant makes more profit with the boneless, he noted.
The owner of Pacific Fried Chicken Company, which opened in August on Butler and Chestnut avenues, has nearly removed bone-in wings from its menu.
But the price of traditional fenders has come down enough that it continues to offer both. It’s now “barely affordable” as long as its customers buy about half boneless and the other half traditional.
Chicken thighs appear on menus for similar reasons. Last summer, Wingstop went so far as to launch Thighstop, a virtual brand delivering from its usual Wingstop locations focusing on chicken thighs.
Avocados are no longer on the menu at Vino Grille & Spirits in northeast Fresno.
Between rising prices and getting “terrible” overripe avocados, they decided to remove them from the turkey burger and other entrees and reprint the menu, owner Chuck Van Fleet said.
“We’ve changed the menu a little more frequently at the moment just (based on) what products we can get,” he said.
While it’s easy to swap a tenderloin for a New York steak when prices demand it, some things are harder to cut.
Lime prices have soared due to drought in Mexico, citrus disease and price gouging by Mexican drug cartels. And frying oil – used to fry everything from fries to chicken in the wrap to chicken salad – has gone from $25 to $55, a price they pay three times a week.
But Van Fleet doesn’t want to stop using fresh lime juice in its craft cocktails. And he won’t stop changing the oil in the fryer three times a week.
So some of the increased expenses will come from their profits. They will also make adjustments elsewhere, frequently tinkering and reprinting the menu.
Pacific Fried Chicken, for example, has reduced the size of its sides and switched to cheaper brands of cheese and butter that don’t affect quality.
Restaurants are constantly rotating, Gutierrez noted.
“A lot of times we try to promote other products,” he said. “If beef gets really high, we try to promote chicken and pork.”
Menu prices are on the rise
Of course, restaurants still have to pass the costs on to customers. Prices go up, often by a dollar or two per entry.
“It’s either I do this or I close my doors,” said Long Nguyen, owner of Pacific Fried Chicken.
He has already fired two employees, deciding himself to work longer at the restaurant.
“We don’t feel good about raising prices,” he said. “As restaurant managers, we want to offer good food at a really decent price. It really isn’t nice to charge $10 for a four-piece fender box.