Shadow Inflation Is Why Some Restaurants Seem Worse Now

If you think back on the last time you went out to your favorite restaurant, you may have noticed that the service just didn't seem up to par. This phenomenon might not have anything to do with poor performance. Since COVID-19 disrupted the world, labor shortages and supply chain issues have trickled down to every facet of life, including local businesses. Some establishments have made the decision to increase prices of their goods, while others decided to cut back certain services that they normally offer, giving the customer a less-complete experience — shadow inflation.

The New York Times reports that this subtle form of inflation has taken its toll on restaurant goers everywhere. Complaints about dirty tables, floors, and bathrooms have risen, while many diners have noticed that they don't get served the right drink or any drink at all, per Black Box Intelligence. The disrupted service has noticeably hit fast food restaurants. Food takes longer to get to the customer, while soda machines and condiment stations receive less attention and run out of supplies. While shadow inflation has become more pronounced recently, experts believe its effects might shape the future of food service.

Shadow inflation has had an impact on restaurants

Businesses have to gauge how the public responds to poor service via shadow inflation compared to other ways to make up profit differences, like raising the prices of meals. According to The New York Times, many fast food chains may opt to keep the price of a sandwich down at the expense of clean bathrooms in order to keep their restaurant competitive, especially when customers have so many restaurant choices. The current models that track inflation also don't properly measure shadow inflation, making its effect particularly tricky to follow. The Labor Department currently does not have a standardized way of measuring shadow inflation, so you might not even know this phenomenon has happened in your area until you see some widespread degradation of services.

Once supply lines come back in full force and more staff return to the workforce, it's hoped that the pressure of shadow inflation will lessen and high-quality service can resume. Until then, make sure to keep this financial phenomenon in mind if you see your favorite restaurant's service start slipping.