Consumer Price Index: How Much More Did You Pay to Eat Out Because of Inflation in September?

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Whether dining in or taking out, enjoying restaurant fare is getting more expensive by the month, according to the Consumer Price Index. 

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Released by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the CPI measures the cost of goods on a regular basis in several key categories like food, utilities, shelter and fuel, among others. When it comes to food away from home, September was the ninth straight month this year that saw an increase, according to the latest CPI data, released Thursday, October 13.

September saw the restaurant category jump by 0.9%, the same increase as August. Breaking that down even further, the CPI notes that full-service meals are up 0.4% and limited-service/fast casual meals are up 0.6%. 

The category also measures an index for food at employee sites and schools, which jumped a whopping 44.9% in September. The report says that this could be reflective of the lack of free school lunch programs that are being phased out in certain parts of the country.

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In total, the cost of food away from home has risen 8.5% over this time last year, with the cost for full-service meals rising 8.8% and the cost for limited-service/fast casual meals rising 7.1% since last September. Those figures are comparable to the 13% increase for food at home (aka groceries) year-over-year. 

Restaurants also have to source their ingredients from food providers and grocers and, as such, many have had to increase prices of menu items to counterbalance the uptick. Simply good, inflation is taking its toll on everyone.

According to NBC, on average, menu items have increased by 7.4% from May 2021 to May 2022, which the National Restaurant Association has said is the biggest price jump since 1981. 

As Wall Street Journal reported in June, it’s not only the cost of food that has impacted restaurants’ bottom lines – there’s also an ongoing labor shortage to contend with as well as increased fees from merchant credit card processors like Visa and Mastercard. Citing data from point of sale developer Lightspeed, the paper reports that “fee revenue nearly doubled from April 2021 to April 2022, based on a sample of 6,000 U.S. restaurants.”

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To get by, many restaurants have been adding a variety of new service fees on receipts to recoup costs. Some of them include a “temporary inflation fee,” a “wellness fee” (explained as helping to pay for worker health insurance) and a “kitchen appreciation fee” for back-of-house workers, as reported by the Wall Street Journal. 

“Our costs have increased exponentially, but there’s just a certain amount that someone’s going to pay for a lobster roll,” one restaurant owner told the paper, explaining the need to get creative with added fees for diners.

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Even so, according to The Penny Hoarder, there are some ways to save while dining out in spite of ongoing inflation. The site suggests taking advantage of applicable military discounts and “kids eat free” deals as well as being sure to take the survey noted on receipts as it usually provides a percentage off of a future meal. Joining loyalty programs can be helpful as well especially if it’s a chain or restaurant group you really like and enjoy frequently. In addition, going out to eat during happy hour and making a meal out of apps and sides are good ideas to save on the bill at the end of the meal.

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About the Author

Selena Fragassi joined in 2022, adding to her 15 years in journalism with bylines in Spin, Paste, Nylon, Popmatters, The A.V. Club, Loudwire, Chicago Sun-Times, Chicago Tribune, Chicago Magazine and others. She currently resides in Chicago with her rescue pets and is working on a debut historical fiction novel about WWII. She holds a degree in fiction writing from Columbia College Chicago.
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