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Consumer Trends

Consumers are braced for getting less for their restaurant dollar, study finds

74% expect eating places to shrink portion sizes, and 66% expect a downgrade in ingredients, according to the survey by MarketMan.
Photograph: Shutterstock

With inflation raging at unprecedented levels, consumers are pessimistic about how restaurant are likely to respond, according to new research.

Nearly 3 of 4 (74%) expect eating places to maintain margins by shrinking portion sizes while maintaining current prices, according to the survey of 1,500 American consumers by MarketMan, a back-of-house software provider. The tactic, already widely evident on supermarket shelves, is known as shrinkflation.

Similarly, two-thirds of respondents (66%) say they anticipate that restaurants will switch to less-expensive ingredients without giving a heads-up to patrons.

Ironically, 56% of the participants said they’d be willing to pay slightly more for their orders if the restaurant was forthcoming and acknowledged that it was trying to preserve profits.

A relatively small but significant proportion (20%) admitted that they’d try to get more for the higher prices they were charged by stealing items from the establishment, such as silverware, glassware and bathroom soaps.

Yet at the same time, 74% said they’d cut back on dining out if menu prices suddenly rose. A nearly identical portion (75%) indicated they’d be likely to reward places they knew with a greater frequency of visits.

The research was released as restaurants struggle to preserve profits in the face of soaring food and labor costs. Swipe fees—the charges levied on operators for the processing of credit-card transactions—have also risen sharply.

Despite consumers’ expectations, few examples have surfaced of restaurant chains opting for shrinkflation. About two months ago, some Burger King units decreased the number of chicken nuggets that were provided in a standard order. In January, Domino’s said it would decrease the number of chicken wings that were provided in a $7.99 order by two, for a total of eight.

In April, the menu prices of full-service restaurants were running about 8.7% above the level of a year ago, according to the latest government figures.

Prices at limited-service places were about 7% higher than they were during April 2021, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported.

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