In the last couple of years, restaurant owners and managers across Georgia significantly raised their menu prices. Despite inflation falling, prices do not seem to be going down anytime soon.
“It’s ridiculous, a 6-piece wing with fries and a drink should not cost me $25, and then I’m expected to tip afterwards,” said Cedrick Lee, a regular at Hooters of Cumberland.
With COVID-19 and inflation hitting the restaurant industry hard in the past two years, producers were forced to raise prices of menu items to stay afloat. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, menu price items in June 2023 were 7.7% higher than in June 2022. Georgia itself is the sixth highest in the nation for restaurant inflation.
Hooters is a national chain restaurant with several locations in metro Atlanta. One of the busiest locations in Georgia is located at Interstate 285 and Cobb Parkway.
With its location close to the Atlanta Braves’ Truist Park, this Hooters sees more than 2,000 customers a day on average. However, some days the number of customers can be as low as 500.
Anthony Wright, the general manager of the Cumberland Hooters, said the increase in price has a lot to do with the restaurant’s food and supply distributors.
“The cost of product has skyrocketed,” said Wright. “Before COVID, wings were $50 a case, now that same case costs $170.”
This is not just happening with food. Wright said supplies such as gloves and kitchen tools increased in price as well.
“The company has to make the money back somehow,” said Wright. “That’s why we have specials to try and help. Food goes up and down very dramatically so it’s easier on the company to keep the prices consistent.”
On the other hand, the customers are not excited to be the ones paying the difference. Many of the regulars at the restaurant have complaints.
“I have been coming here for years and I have never paid this much,” said customer DJ Campbell. “I’ll admit, it makes me come here less and it makes me tip less. Why would I tip more if I’m receiving the same service?”
This issue not only takes a toll on the restaurant, but on its servers. When customers are not happy with prices or service quality, it impacts the tips servers receive.
“I have definitely seen a decrease in my tips and an increase in the attitudes of customers,” said Kary Holloman, a server at Hooters. “One or two summers ago I used to make $10,000 or more, this summer I barely touched $4,000.”
Most customers do not know servers earn their money primarily from tips. Their minimum wage averages $2.13 an hour, which servers rarely see due to taxes. Tips supplement and add to this hourly wage. Unhappy customers can negatively impact servers’ overall wages.
Not only large chain restaurants were hit by inflation; private local restaurants feel the strain too. For example, The Sahara Grill in Woodstock is a family-owned Mediterranean restaurant.
“Since COVID, we took a big hit financially, people do not like leaving the house like they used to,” said Tony Edwar. He is a manager, cook, and the oldest son of the Sahara Grill owners.
Some of the Sahara Grill’s ingredients are bought through wholesale stores such as Sam’s Club, BJ’s, or Restaurant Depot. This helps the owners save money. However, they still must buy chicken, gyro meat, and steak from industry distributors.
“The distributors making it difficult to access meat has a direct correlation to why prices continue to go up,” said Edwar. “We are then forced to make up for the extra money being spent.”
A lot of people are wondering if or when things will return to normal.
“It is never going to go back to pre-COVID,” said Edwar. “I think that permanently altered the economy.”