INDEPENDENCE, Ohio — The cooks in the kitchen at Winking Lizard are busy, but they’re not making some of the items offered at the local restaurant chain that they were a year ago.
“You don’t see things like quesadillas or, you know, some our steak sandwiches and stuff like that we had to pull off the menu because we pulled that whole sautée station because we couldn't get the labor to fill it.,” said John Lane, co-owner of the restaurant. “We shrunk it [menu], we had to.”
In addition, the restaurant is no longer offering traditional wings for discounted prices.
The culprit? The rise in food prices.
“A big driver of our restaurants is chicken wings. Basically, as of three months ago, they were double in price what they were last year, double,” said Lane.
U.S. inflation is hitting the restaurant industry hard.
“It’s just one more thing, two years, you know? You just feel like the punches just keep coming,” said Lane.
Lane said it’s not just chicken, it’s beef.
“Everyone knows about our T-Bone steak special on the weekends. It's awesome. But if you don't get it, you better get it quick because that cost is going up. The steak is going up double. We contracted for enough to get us through probably the month of February, and then that's going to go away,” he said.
It’s also not just food, it’s other products, too.
“As oil prices go up, people don't think about that, but all of our takeout packaging is going through the roof,” he said.
John Barker with the Ohio Restaurant Association said the inflation is unlike anything we’ve seen in modern history.
“Everything's up across the board and it creates tremendous pressure on profitability and this is an industry that runs on a pretty thin margin,” said Barker.
Barker boils it all down to the labor shortage which creates a supply chain disruption.
“In terms of what's being delivered to the back of the house in restaurants, most the times, are only able to get somewhere around 85% of what they order week over the week because so many things are just not available,” he said.
He said this, in addition to the rise in COVID-19 cases, has forced restaurants to make tough decisions.
“The number of closures not being forced by a mandate. This is the highest we've had in really modern history,” said Barker.
But he said the industry is changing to survive the crisis.
“You're going to see more and more restaurants do takeout only models from the get-go and more delivery things like that,” he said. “We do not see the end of the supply chain prices, probably for at least the rest of 2022.”
Barker said some are passing the price hike onto customers. Lane said Winking Lizard has had to do that, but only moderately.
“Pricing is an emotional thing as well as a business thing, you know, and you've got to be very sensitive to that and very, very cautious with it,” said Lane. “We're kind of sickened on what we've had to do, but I still think we're still in that value play. But you know, you got to be very, very careful.”
But Lane said despite the hard times, they’ve always had one recipe for success: loyal customers.
“They come back, they support us. They know we're local. They know where we're fighting for them too,” he said.