[SUMMERSIDE, PE] — It's no secret that Islanders have been paying higher prices for food at the grocery stores, but some restaurant owners are feeling the pinch as well.
A confluence of factors — food shortages, rising fuel costs for shipping, increased payroll taxes — is forcing some eateries to raise prices on menu items.
Robert Gallant, owner of Michael's Pizzeria in Summerside, plans to increase prices of his menu items by five per cent this year.
He wants his customers to know that it's not a money grab, but simply the cost of staying in business.
"It's got nothing to do with me making more money, it's got everything to do with trying to keep afloat," Gallant said. "It's all about the dollar now, trying to make a living. I want to stay here, but there's a cost to all these fees that I have to pass on to the customer. I don't want to do that, but I can't keep absorbing it."
Gallant said the last time he increased prices was two years ago, shortly after completing a major renovation to the restaurant.
Since that time, the cost of some food items he buys has shot up. The price of the cheese he uses for pizza, for instance, recently increased by18 cents per kilogram, translating to thousands of dollars a year.
Product distributors have also taken a hit on fuel costs to deliver food to the restaurants. In turn, the companies often have to pass those extra costs along to restaurant owners.
Chad Mann, director of finance for ADL in Summerside, said there will be a modest cost increase this year of 1.5 per cent for the milk used in butter, yogurt, ice cream and cheese. Comparatively, he said, inflation on other foods averaged more than four per cent in the past year.
ADL's food division distributes to most local restaurants, and often faces many of the same cost challenges.
"Right now there's a lot of inflationary pressures in the food system in general, due to fuel prices and energy prices," said Mann. "Cost of feed...would be a large portion. If the commodity prices for feed to service the herds are going up, that would transfer into the pricing of the finished product for the milk."
Gallant and other restaurant owners have adopted a strategy of locking in food purchases when costs are low.
The Brother's Two restaurant, for example, gets tips from its suppliers when they know the cost of particular items is set to increase.
Restaurant manager Sheila Bell said price increases are sometimes unavoidable if certain products take a major cost jump, but most customers seem to understand.
"Last summer red peppers tripled in price, so all of our menu items that had four ounces of red peppers, we would put three ounces of green and one ounce of red. We're always making menu adjustments according to the food costs," said Bell. "We might increase prices (by) a dollar for a menu item, but we wouldn't go higher than that. We'd probably discontinue an item if we couldn't get the food costs we're looking for out of it."