Chicago Restaurants Are About To Get More Expensive. Here's Why

The year 2020 hit hard for a lot of folks, and some of the most affected individuals worked in the food industry. According to CNN, 17 percent of American restaurants permanently folded over the course of the year, with 10,000 closing in the three month span between October to December 2020. Due to the ways that COVID-19 shaped the way we dine, an estimated 100,000 restaurants went under and millions of workers lost their jobs in the industry (via QSR Magazine). These workers, who persevered in harsh conditions and relied on a mixture of low hourly wages plus tips to survive, brought their plight to a national stage through a national protest held on January 15 of this year (via CNN). Businesses have now begun to respond to the workers and plan to reshape the restaurant industry.

The changes have already started in Chicago. According to Eater, a good portion of chefs working in the Windy City have started finding ways to pay their employees a livable wage of $15 an hour, at the cost of menu prices slightly rising. This shift partially comes as a result of the city shifting to a baseline hourly income of $15 an hour starting in July 2021, as decided upon by the Chicago city council years ago. While the standard of living rises for these workers, some restaurant patrons have felt slighted by rising menu prices.

A new era of more expensive dining

In a recent Instagram post, Chicago restaurateur Ursula Siker addressed the rising menu prices by delving into the labor practices at Siker's modern Jewish deli, Jeff and Judes in Chicago's Ukrainian Village. In the post, Siker describes how the deli maintains their high quality based on their increased menu prices, which not only ensure their workers get paid a fair wage, but also cover the expenses of curing and smoking their meat in-house and baking their bread on-site. The post acts as a rallying cry for over 2,300 users who liked it, signalling that menus aren't just changing to reflect rising wages, but to meet the cost of labor and quality control, while ensuring excellent dining experiences in this new era of eating.

The rising price of raw ingredients also encourages Chicago chefs to raise their prices. Many chefs also source their ingredients from local farms and haven't previously had the chance to let their menu reflect the cost of these higher-quality ingredients. With this sea-change, restaurants can slightly raise prices to ensure they stay open and provide an optimal dining experience (via Eater). As an entire local industry backs the fight for a livable wage, Chicagoans should expect some slight changes to the way they eat out in the coming months. Depending on the reactions from diners, we could also see other restaurants across the country following suit.