Get ready to see a lot of PB&Js around the office.
New York City’s hotly contested minimum wage increase to $ 15 — up from $ 13 or $ 13.50, depending on employer size — rolled out citywide at the start of the year. And although that’s good news for NYC restaurant servers, patrons are grumbling about its impact on menu prices at their favorite eateries.
Ahead of the wage hike, the NYC Hospitality Alliance conducted a survey of 574 local food establishments in late 2018. They found that 87 percent of respondents planned to increase menu prices this year to offset the minimum wage bump. True to their promise, the cost of food has risen at various spots around the city.
“Basically, the prices will have gone up at every restaurant in New York,” Jon Bloostein, CEO and founder of Manhattan chain Heartland Brewery, tells The Post. At his Midtown beer-and-burger joints, he says he’s now charging a dollar more for several entrees, 50 cents to a dollar more on appetizers and 50 cents more on pints of beer as a direct result of the wage shift. The changes will be even more dramatic at high-end spots, he adds: “At a tablecloth restaurant, a chicken dinner with a vegetable and a side [used to go] for $ 26 to $ 28, and now it’s $ 32 to $ 34,” he says, giving general estimates.
But such moves may backfire, according to Melissa Fleischut, president and CEO of the New York State Restaurant Association. “[Restaurants] feel they’re getting to a point where the customer might reject the higher prices, choose a different way to eat out, or eat their own food,” she says.
That’s been the case for construction worker Dominic Febbraro, who says the price jump has forced him to mix up his lunch routine. While the Staten Island resident used to eat at the 47th Street and Fifth Avenue McDonald’s once or twice a week, that changed when his Big Mac meal rung up at $ 10.52 this January — nearly a dollar more than the $ 9.58 he says he was used to paying.
“I bring my own lunch now [most days,]” says the 24-year-old, who’s started brown-bagging grilled chicken and rice.
When asked about raising prices as a result of the minimum wage law, a corporate spokesperson from McDonald’s told The Post that individual franchises set their own prices for food items, and declined to comment further.
Starbucks locations around the city saw a price adjustment of “approximately 1 percent” in January, according to a representative for the chain. Although it sounds incremental, java fiends like Edward Beck, a 30-something patron of Starbucks’ 40th Street and Fifth Avenue location, are distressed. “It’s obnoxious — kind of a slap in the face,” according to Beck, who says he “drinks coffee all day.” For him, even a few pennies add up fast: “Another increase, and I won’t come back.”
Five Guys fan Marlon Henry, 43, is already changing his lunch plans thanks to heightened prices. “I was just telling my buddy these fries are expensive,” says the fire-alarm inspector, who lives in Queens. Employees of the chain’s West 48th Street and Sixth Avenue location tell The Post that the fries have only increased by 10 cents since the new year, but that the price for burgers has gone up by $ 1. It’s all too much for Henry, who says he’ll go to other fast-food spots to get his fix: “I won’t come back here.”
Customers might be soothed to know that the extra money they’re spending is going directly into workers’ pockets — but, according to Bloostein, that’s not even the case. Such incremental price raises, he says, “will not offset fully the minimum wage increase.” Much more has to change on the business back-end to afford the raise, he explains. He wishes he and his restaurant-industry colleagues had been given a longer time to adjust.
Jeremy Merrin, owner and founder of Times Square’s Cuban restaurant Havana Central, agrees. “It’s much too fast,” he says. Although he’s raised prices on menu items — including their ropa vieja entree, and all dark liquors — from 50 cents to a dollar in response to the increase, he doubts that it will be enough. “The shock of raising [the wage] at that rate in that short time — you just can’t catch your breath.”
On the rise
Small price increases rack up over a year. Here’s how much more you’ll spend on lunch for the year at these fast food spots.