Rising food prices alter how L.I. eateries operate

Increasing food prices have caused Long Island restaurateurs to rethink their business plans in recent years. // Photo courtesy U.S. Department of Agriculture via Wikimedia Commons

By James Poll 

Since the Covid-19 pandemic of 2020, inflation has shown its true presence on Long Island. According to reports from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average cost of food rose 8.5% from 2021 to 2022 nationally, the highest increase in a decade, peaking at 11.5% in September 2022 before beginning a steady decline down to about 3% in November 2023.

Restaurants owners have had to make critical business decisions in recent years to remain profitable while also providing Long Islanders with the dining experiences that they love. Restaurants were caught in the middle of surging prices and faced a dilemma — raise prices to offset higher food costs and potentially risk losing customers, or keep prices as they were and lose money on increased food costs.

Many restaurateurs said they have had to increase menu prices because of rising food costs, causing uncertainty and concern within the restaurant industry. Most restaurants, to one degree or another, have been affected, from mom-and-pop eateries, diners and concession stands to medium- and high-end restaurants, experts say.

“Restaurants are not going to have a choice but to raise their prices,” said Milton Hazzinikollaou, owner of the Greek Cove chain with locations in Long Beach, Merrick and Oyster Bay. “The most affected would be fine dining as well as mom-and-pop style restaurants. Restaurants must look at vendors that competitively have prices that are comparable to what you’re buying now and watch labor costs that are going up in Long Island in order to avoid going out of business.”

Hazzinikollaou added, “While prices are going down, vendors also need to lower their prices even more as soon as they can.”

“Restaurants have become more aware of their pricing and have had to adjust their menus accordingly. Well, I should say more aware of their individual costs as far as average costs,” said Alex Kekatos, CEO of Marathon Foods, a Ronkonkoma-based distribution company.

Kekatos said he is concerned that with the high food prices, “this will make doing business a lot harder for restaurants,” noting, “They have to adjust by rearranging prices or eliminating items so they can become more profitable.”

With food prices remaining higher than pre-pandemic levels, Kekatos said distributors “have to adjust inventory to comfort customers’ different” buying patterns, and that restaurants and their suppliers “need to work together to get past this tough time.”

“Communication is key,” he noted.

“While prices are going down, vendors also need to lower their prices even more as soon as they can.”

Milton Hazzinikollaou, owner of the Greek Cove restaurant chain

“Unfortunately, restaurants have had to boost prices on their menus, and unfortunately, there’s an effect to raising prices, which is you sometimes have less people eating out and less people buying more product,” said John Roumbos, an accountant at John Roumbos CPA in Wantagh. “The upper-end restaurants, it will not affect, but the medium- to lower-tier restaurants will be affected.”

Roumbos added, “Certain [restaurants] will close. Certain ones will have to raise more pricing because of increases in the food cost and increases in the labor cost.” 

Salvatore DiMeo owns Trattoria DiMeo Cucina Italiana, an Italian restaurant in Roslyn. “It’s hard, depending on where you live. Over here, in our area, prices affect people but not so much in this area,” he said.

“The high-end restaurants, which is the people who can afford the high-end restaurants, I do not see them getting as affected as much, more so than the mom-and-pop shops getting affected,” DiMeo said. “If it’s a chain [of] restaurants, they would carry each other. They would do OK.”

He noted, though, that restaurants might have to “cut back on the employees, maybe have less staffing. So, I think if it affects anything, it would affect the amount of staffing, so the hiring might be an issue.”

DiMeo, a second-generation owner of Trattoria Dimeo, said that more expensive items like wine are “not moving as much” and that customers have been ordering the “lower-budget items” recently.

“I think a lot of restaurateurs that aren’t businessmen have to now become businessmen and really have to look at all their fixed costs,” said Marco Lionetti, owner of The Lazy Lobster group with eateries in East Rockaway and Massapequa Park.