Iowa restaurants struggle to keep menu items in stock amid inflation

The Iowa Restaurant Association says it’s now more important than ever to eat local and be patient with employees.

DES MOINES, Iowa — With consumer prices jumping 7% over the past year, inflation is hitting every corner of the economy, including restaurants in Iowa.

Iowa Restaurant Association CEO Jessica Bunker credits inflation for causing certain items to be missing from the menu the next time you go out to eat. She said restaurants were specifically struggling to get protein.

“When there is nobody in a processing plant to process the chicken, and nobody to drive the truck and nobody to unload the truck, then all of a sudden you have a 30% increase in the price of chicken” , Bunker said. “So that makes it incredibly difficult when you’re trying to run a business that has extremely thin margins.”

Sierrah Kittrell owns food truck Wingz on Wheelz and said she’s been feeling the effects of the pandemic mixed in with higher prices.

“Our business struggles to be transparent simply because of the inflation in the cost of food, supplies, and products,” Kittrell said.

Prices for its daily necessities have soared throughout the pandemic as it has kept prices stable. Kittrell said that left his profit margin in bad shape.

“A crate of chicken doubled in price, napkins almost tripled in price, take-out containers almost tripled in price,” she said. “As far as our company’s traffic goes, we’ve still received normal traffic volume, if not more than before the pandemic. But with food cost inflation, it’s been very difficult to see a profit margin. “

Bunker said Kittrell’s company isn’t the only one experiencing this.

“In good times, the restaurant industry operates with a net profit of around 5%,” she said. “So when you’re looking at 30% raises on things in your business that are really important, it’s tough.”

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Meat and poultry aren’t the only key items that are forcing restaurants to change their menus.

“The price of cooking oil has increased dramatically. And when you think of the large fryers that many restaurant operations use and how often you change the oil, doubling the price of cooking oil is important and has a real impact on operations,” she said.

As for Kittrell, his plan to get through this is to keep “getting through it”.

“I’ve just been so blessed for all of our repeat customers, as well as our new customers who have been willing to support our business and can’t give us a try,” Kittrell said. “Because honestly, without our customers, we would have gone out of business a long time ago.”

The unpredictability of getting ingredients or supplies means QR code menus are likely to stick around. This allows restaurateurs to easily update what they do and don’t have in stock

The Iowa Restaurant Association is now saying more than ever that eating local is important. They also remind the public to be patient with restaurant workers during these difficult times.

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