Furthermore, Ramsay, Andrés, Mina and Keller are opening restaurants in luxury hotels, which have deep pockets for what they regard as necessary amenities.
At home, you can respond to rising food prices by dining more humbly, but that's not an option luxury restaurants can offer. Nor is raising prices on customers who are already feeling squeezed in other ways.
"Everyone wants to eat well, and everyone wants to have the best ingredients," says Myers, who has both high-end Sona and the more casual Comme Ça. "But when you find out what that really costs, it's astronomical. That's true whether you're shopping at Whole Foods and paying $100 for a bag of groceries or whether you're shopping for a restaurant. It all adds up."
Providence's Michael Cimarusti says his business is growing nicely -- his gross revenue is up about 8% from last year. But costs are up even more.
And it's not just exotics that are pricey. Citrin says he's paying more for staples such as milk and butter. "Flour is up 60%," he says. "You just have to be really disciplined about how much you buy, and you have to watch your cash flow."
Another sticking point is paying cooks and waiters. It costs just as much to staff a restaurant that is three-fourths full as it does one that is packed. As a result of those and other fixed costs such as laundry and utilities, Citrin says Melisse's expenses have risen by almost 13% in the last year.
"What was a good week last year may not be a good week anymore," he says.
Keep diners happy
IN THE end, Colicchio says, it's focusing on old-fashioned culinary values that will pull restaurants through, not marketing wizardry or financial trickery.
"You're not going to make it by buying inferior products or by cutting staff back so much that they're running around and not offering good service," he says. "If you're a quality restaurant, you have to continue to meet those standards. If you don't, you're going to lose customers and they won't come back when times get better.
"Remember, we're in the hospitality business and the implication is that we're here to nourish people's stomachs, but also somehow to make them feel better when they leave than when they came in. That's especially true these days when everyone's sitting there watching their 401(k)s dwindle."