Last fall, as restaurant menus across the country saw their sharpest price increases since 1981, Leo Inestroza finally caved: “I hate having cents on my menu, honestly,” says Inestroza, who owns Lean Draft House in West End. “I like simple numbers: $9 or $10. Having items right now for $10.50, it’s kind of weird. But those 50 cents impact the bottom line.”
Inestroza’s wholesale and labor costs started creeping up in March 2020, and his margins continued to shrink over the next year, before nearly collapsing in 2021 under the weight of an international supply-chain crisis. The pandemic caused an economic slowdown, which led to layoffs and reductions in production and shipping. The layoffs contributed to a labor shortage, and disruptions in production and shipping led to component shortages.
Not just food, either: Atlanta Pizza Truck co-owner Sofia Arango says she “could not find pizza boxes of any size or kind for almost three months.” When the boxes reappeared, the price for a pack of 50 had jumped from $16 to $21. “This is the most disruptive chain of events that has affected our industry that I’ve ever experienced,” says Georgia Restaurant Association president and CEO Karen Bremer, who’s been in the business for three decades. In 2021, Bremer worked with restaurateurs across the state as a nationwide chicken shortage sent prices “sky high.” (One of her suggestions was to list and sell chicken at “market price,” akin to Wagyu steak or Chilean sea bass.)
“We’re trying everything we can to provide a good experience and a quality product—while, at the same time, making sure we’re keeping our doors open,” says Inestroza. Reducing operating hours, culling the menu, and charging an extra 50 cents here or a dollar there has helped Lean Draft House stay afloat, but it’s a fraction of the increased operating costs Inestroza is navigating.
Here, he shares how prices have drastically changed at his restaurant since February 2020:
This article appears in our February 2022 issue.