Restaurants battle rising food costs

Published 3:20 pm Monday, June 23, 2008

When customers pull up to pick up their food at the Twin Palmetto restaurant in Landrum, they get more than just the food they ordered.

Hanging on the drive-through window is a list of food products and the percentage their cost has gone up in the last 10-12 months.

The rising fuel costs are seeping into the food market and consumers are being affected in another way.

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That&squo;s the reason that George Koutsogiannis, one of three brothers who owns Twin Palmetto, said that he hung the price list. He wanted to be up front and have open lines of communication with his customers, he said.

&dquo;This way, we&squo;re giving the customers an explanation,&dquo; he said.

According to his list, oil prices have jumped 116 percent and mayonaise costs have gone up 100 percent.

Such increases have caused restaurant owners to get creative, Hare and the Hound and Tea House owner Patty Otto said.

&dquo;We&squo;re just trying to do things to work more efficiently in other areas,&dquo; Otto said. &dquo;We&squo;re trying to pick up the extra money we&squo;re spending by working smarter.&dquo;

Otto said she constantly checks on her fryers to make sure that they are working properly. She&squo;s constantly comparing prices in insurance and worker&squo;s compensation.

She refuses to drop the quality of her food, Otto said, so it&squo;s creativity that will help the customers most.

Paul Dale, owner of Foothills Mountain Bar-Be-Q in Tryon, says that we may not have seen the worst of it yet.

In one week, he said, a 50 pound bag of potatoes went from $23 to $33. The price he pays for peanut oil has doubled in the last four months. Burgers have gone up 33 cents per burger.

&dquo;But I&squo;m not going to change my burger,&dquo; he said.

Instead, he switched to a clear frying oil, which he says hasn&squo;t changed the quality of his burger. It&squo;s also a matter of playing around with portions, he said.

The most important thing, however, Mountain View BBQ in Columbus owner Shane Blackwell said is that the burden is not placed on the customer.

&dquo;I&squo;m just trying not to pass the cost onto the customer and thankfully I haven&squo;t had to do that yet,&dquo; he said.

The rising costs of products have also caused local restaurant owners to start looking locally for supplies. With vendors now charging a gas surcharge, owners are looking carefully at vendors in the community.

Otto buys her tomatoes from Ayers&squo; Market in Landrum. Blackwell shops locally frequently. Twin Palmetto buys its milk from local grocers. Koutsogiannis said that a lot of times the local deal is a lot better.

&dquo;Lately, we&squo;re having to compare prices with local fresh markets,&dquo; he said. &dquo;We just have to do our homework and see which way is the best way to go.&dquo;

But Dale warns that we may not have seen the worst days in rising food costs.

The cost of food and oil is rising every day, he said.

&dquo;I don&squo;t think the worst has hit us yet,&dquo; he said. &dquo;It&squo;s just starting to catch up to the food.&dquo;

And again, that&squo;s where creativity comes in, Otto said. She said that it&squo;s the details in the business that are going to keep her from putting too much of the price burden on her customers ‐ details such as taking bigger deliveries so that she doesn&squo;t have to pay the gas surcharge often.

&dquo;You have to try to stay ahead of it by working efficiently,&dquo; she said.