Stop by any local breakfast eatery and you may start wondering, “When did breakfast become so expensive?” Are the days of old-fashioned diners with their free “warm-ups” and $2 pancake stacks a thing of the past?
The price of a classic breakfast plate consisting of two eggs, toast, potatoes, and bacon can range anywhere from $1.99 to $10.50 in Corvallis. One local restaurant offers an eight-egg omelet for $14.95, and another sells two pancakes with fruit for $10. This disparity in price begs the question, “How much is too much?”
The factors that drive menu price include food cost, labor, and other necessities such as rent, insurance, linens, marketing, etc. Food costs and labor make up the highest percentages, at or around 30 percent each.
One of the most obvious reasons for a high food cost is the quality of the food. While skeptics and traditionalists might long for a simpler time when “blissful ignorance” reigned, many Oregonians now want to know the backstory on everything that touches their plates. Customers now demand to know where their coffee beans were roasted, how the chickens who laid the eggs were treated, and if the potatoes were grown with or without the aid of pesticides. Many restaurants meet this demand by using higher-quality ingredients such as organic produce and grass-fed animal proteins. None of these foods come without a higher price tag to match.
While it’s true that organic and locally sourced foods are more expensive than conventional, mass-produced foods, does that mean that a higher menu price directly indicates a higher quality of food? Not necessarily. Other causes for high food costs, thus creating higher menu prices, are serving extra-large portions, ordering too much product, preparing more food than can be sold, or simply wanting a higher profit.
The typical restaurant business model puts food cost percentage at or under 30 percent of the menu prices. For example, if the entire dish costs the restaurant $3 to make, it would be priced at $10 for a 30 percent food cost, $12 for a 25 percent food cost, and $15 for a 20 percent food cost. If an owner wants to make a higher profit, he or she might try to keep food cost percentages low, thus increasing the menu prices.
A breakfast eatery that uses mostly inexpensive ingredients like eggs, potatoes, and flour should have a relatively low food cost. However, food cost percentages can vary from dish to dish, since restaurants typically try to balance out their pricier items with more profitable dishes. For example, a three-egg organic omelet priced at $10 might be fair if it’s packed with proteins and Tillamook cheese. However, a $7 stack of non-organic pancakes doesn’t seem to add up, considering that the main ingredients, flour and eggs, cost merely cents. Similarly, paying $4 for a bowl of conventional oatmeal is a bit unreasonable, unless it contains pricey toppings such as nuts and 100 percent pure maple syrup.
Employee labor makes up the other highest percentage of restaurant expenses. A restaurant whose staff makes pastries from scratch and cracks fresh eggs instead of using bags of egg mix will probably spend more on labor than the food itself.
Oregon servers also make the second-highest hourly wage in the country at $8.95 an hour. Compared to the federal minimum rate for tipped employees of $2.13 an hour, Oregon restaurant owners are paying about $272 more per week for each full-time server they employ. For a small eatery that employs only five servers, that amounts to over $70,000 per year in extra labor cost when compared to other states like New Jersey and Indiana.
Corvallis breakfast enthusiasts can rest assured there are still a variety of local eateries offering their favorite meal of the day to fit every budget. The bottom line is you get what you pay for. Customers must weigh their options and decide what is most important to them: low prices, food quality, made-from-scratch items, supporting local, or the simple pleasure of having someone else do all the work.
On a quest to find the best “bang for your breakfast-buck,” I discovered three Corvallis restaurants that offer the highest quality food for the most important meal of the day. They pride themselves on serving food that is freshly prepared, locally sourced, and organically grown. Considering their food costs should be higher than most, their prices are surprisingly fair. Bonus: all three make a valiant effort to reduce waste in their daily operations, to participate in vegetable waste composting, and to use recyclable and compostable to-go products.
Sunnyside Up Café(Located at 116 NW 3rd Street; http://sunnyside-up-cafe.com/):
Sunnyside Up serves breakfast and homemade pastries every day with vegetarian and vegan options. “What was most important to me was that we had an establishment that was connected to the community,” said owner Jon Gold. Accordingly, they use hormone-free milk from Spring Valley Dairy in Salem, organic flour from Greenwillow Grains in Corvallis, and organic veggies from Charlie’s Produce in Portland when available.
Gold’s philosophy on food stems from a deeply-rooted prejudice against factory food: “I don’t want to eat it myself, so I shouldn’t serve it to other people.”
Sunnyside still serves the coffee made by the café’s original owner, Pacific Coffee. It is organic, locally roasted, and fair trade, meaning that fair prices are paid to bean producers in developing countries.
Interzone (Located at 1563 NW Monroe Avenue; http://interzoneorganic.com/):
In addition to their organic, fair trade, and locally roasted coffee, Interzone also serves vegetarian and vegan breakfasts on the weekends. They use organic produce from Organically Grown Company in Eugene and breads from Big River Breads of Corvallis.
Interzone takes sustainability seriously: they even use the backs of old flyers as drink order tickets. Their T-shirts are designed and hand-printed by local artists, and their chairs were purchased from the OSUsed Store. Owner Bill McCanless said, “We try to cut out the middle man as much as we can and support the people that live in this town and Oregon.
“Most of my clientele don’t seem to care about the organic labels or where the coffee came from,” McCanless added, “they just like how our food and coffee taste. What they don’t understand is that it tastes better because it is organic.”
Nearly Normal’s (Located at 109 NW 15th Street; http://www.nearlynormals.com/):
This long-standing vegetarian and vegan restaurant offers breakfast daily and uses a variety of local vendors: eggs from Norton Creek in Corvallis; tofu from Surata in Eugene; organic flour from Fairhaven Mills in Washington; organic oats from Greenwillow Grains in Corvallis; organic coffee from Pacifica Coffee in Corvallis; and organic produce from Gathering Together Farm in Philomath.
Owner Barb Eveland said, “We really believe organic and fresh taste better, are healthier, and are better for the environment. Using more costly product is challenging for the bottom line, but we have never wanted to compromise for the sake of money. We are still here after 33 years, and we believe our customers can taste the difference in our food.”
Nearly Normal’s also shows its commitment to the environment in many ways, not the least of which is recycling their fry oil as bio-fuel.
by Bridget Olson