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Opinion | Inflation Is Still on the Menu

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Democratic politicians and commentators say we should stop worrying about inflation now that it’s cooled to 3.2%. They should try eating out. At a humble Turkish restaurant near my home in Tampa, Fla., the cheapest item on the kids’ menu was $14 last week. It costs nearly $30 to take my family of four to our favorite ice cream shop, and that’s if we order single scoops and tip less than the touch-screen register recommends. At an eatery Google Maps labels with two dollar symbols—meaning it’s moderately priced compared to others—I recently paid $31 for tagliatelle bolognese, which has since risen to $32.90. My inattentive waiter presented the bill with three pre-set tip options: 22%, 25% or 30%.

The cost of dining out increased 5.4% between October 2022 and October 2023, but it feels as if prices have risen more. Between 2019 and 2023, the average price of a cheeseburger increased 63%, from $9.74 to $15.88, according to trade publications. High wholesale food prices contribute to price hikes at restaurants, as do rising labor costs. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, between 2019 and 2022 median pay increased 21% ($11.74 to $14.21) for dishwashers and 19% ($13.80 to $16.40) for restaurant cooks. During the same period, median pay increased only 6% for elementary-school teachers and police officers and 13% for janitors.

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