Saucy nuggets, steak and sticker shock

Menu Talk: Pat and Bret beef about the high price of entrees and how Fogo de Chao offers value for meat lovers. Plus chicken nuggets and sauces keep making news.

This week on Menu Talk, hosts Pat Cobe, senior menu editor of Restaurant Business, and Bret Thorn, senior food and beverage editor at Nation’s Restaurant News, share their take on high menu prices. Their editors at both publications have had a lot to say about fast-food inflation, but how about sticker shock at full-service restaurants?

It’s getting increasingly difficult to find entrees priced below $40 at chef-driven independents, even those with a more-casual vibe. And fine-dining restaurants are pushing prices above the $50 mark for a plate of seafood or meat accompanied by maybe one side. Yet reservations are hard to get at many of these spots, so there seems to be enough deep-pocketed customers willing to pay—especially in the big cities.

Fogo de Chao has found ways to keep prices reasonable without hurting its margins, as CEO Barry McGowan revealed in a chat with Pat. We played clips from their conversation, in which he talks about controlling costs by purchasing “overhang” from meat suppliers, in-house butchering and introducing new cuts to guests. Fogo has raised menu prices by 2.5% in the last couple of years, while other restaurants in the steakhouse category have averaged 10%, he said.

Customers at Fogo pay about $52 for the whole churrasco experience, which features a large variety of meats carved tableside, an extensive Market Table of seasonal salads, soup, Brazilian feijoada, smoked salmon and charcuterie, and dessert. The Bar Fogo menu also offers good value, with a burger and polenta fries that sells for under $10, as well as empanadas, lamb chops and craft cocktails on offer.

And Bret gives the lowdown on some saucy new fast-food items he tasted. Wendy’s introduced Saucy Nuggs, its version of chicken nuggets tossed and coated with sauce. There’s a choice of seven flavor combos—four spicy and three a little tamer. He also sampled Sonic’s Groovy Fries, an update that gives the fries deeper grooves. Supposedly, that makes them better for dipping in new Groovy Sauce—a blend of ranch, herbs and Sriracha. Listen to hear what Bret thinks about these new items.

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Menu Talk is a collaboration between Restaurant Business Senior Menu Editor Pat Cobe and Bret Thorn, senior food & beverage editor of Nation’s Restaurant News and Restaurant Hospitality. You can subscribe to it wherever you listen to podcasts.

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