Restaurant Prices Have Surpassed Groceries, So Farewell To Eating Out

Americans have been feeling the pinch of increased prices for a couple of years now: in the wake of Covid, inflation rose 7% in 2021, and by 6.5% in 2022. Everywhere, everything is a lot more expensive than it was before the pandemic. Food inflation, in particular, has been at its worst level in decades.

Not all prices go up at the same rate, however, and things have been starting to slow down — finally. Prices at the pump have come way down from their peak in 2022, and we're finally seeing a drop in egg prices (now that Easter's potato decorating season is over). After almost two years of brutal food inflation, consumers are actually catching a break. In March 2023, "at-home" food prices actually went down, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. This is a huge break for shoppers who've been watching their grocery bills increase, with what has appeared to be no end in sight.

That's the good news. But there's bad news, too. One of the few consolation prizes has been the financial allure of dining out. The expense of eating at home has made restaurant and takeout options relatively affordable, providing an additional excuse not to make dinner. But you'll have to say sayonara to that solution because that opportunity is disappearing.

Good news, bad news, good news

In the past year, the price of food at home increased 8.4% overall, while the price of food away from home went up 8.8%. The difference is especially notable in the past month: In March, supermarket prices actually went down 0.3%, while they continued their upward trend elsewhere at a steady 0.6% rate. 

This makes for sad times. Inflation hasn't truly let up, so we're still paying high prices for our meals, but we no longer have an inflated list of reasons for not cooking at home. This means millions will have to own up to our real reasons for ordering in, instead of pretending that we do it because it's cheaper. As painful as that process may be, it's better in the long run. While many people have been eating out more because of its relative affordability, it's still relative. The lack of purchasing power has led many others to dine out less and spend less when they do. The uptick in grocery expenses has altered many Americans' shopping habits at the cost of overall health, especially in households with food insecurity, where paying for food is already a struggle. Even if inflation doesn't come down evenly, it's a sign that hope is on the horizon.