Ask Lawrence restaurant owners about the problems on their plate, and they’ll probably mention rising food prices.
Subarna Bhattachan, co-owner of Zen Zero, 811 Mass., is one such owner. He buys his products domestically and from Thailand, where food prices have also increased. He said the dollar’s weakened value makes the problem a “double whammy for us.”
Greg Mann, co-owner of Dempsey’s, 623 Vt., said food prices have risen since the restaurant opened in 2008.
“If that continues to happen, we’ll probably see a problem,” Mann said.
Bhattachan said he finds creative ways to reduce his costs. Last year, he changed his employee meal policy: Instead of receiving a free meal during their shift, workers now get a 50 percent discount.
Since the recession began in 2008, other local restaurants have cut back on kitchen freebies.
Ingredient, 947 Mass., used to give employees a free meal when they worked. But now, they pay half the menu price, according to Ian White, general manager.
At Encore, 1007 Mass., employees receive a 25 percent discount. According to employee Daniel Padilla, the discount used to be half-off before the restaurant remodeled in 2009.
At Ten at the Eldridge, 701 Mass., cooks used make a family-style meal for the staff before customers arrived but no longer do so.
“Before the recession, we could probably eat anything we wanted,” said Patti McCormick, director of media for the Olivia Collection, parent company of the Eldridge Hotel. These days, managers at the restaurant receive a free meal while hourly employees get a discount.
According to Richard Lee, manager of Paisano’s, 2112 W. 25th St., discounted meals are standard practice for Lawrence restaurants. Paisano’s dishwashers and cooks receive a free meal, while front-of-house employees get half-priced food.
“I think that’s really the trend,” said Evan Davis, manager of Jefferson’s, 743 Mass., where employees have received a discount since the restaurant reopened last spring. “No one likes to give anything away now.”
Chuck Magerl, owner of Free State Brewing Company, 636 Mass., said employees receive a discount on most of the restaurant’s food. He said the policy is valuable to everyone — employees pay low prices while learning the menu and giving the kitchen feedback.
“My experience in 35 years in the restaurant business: Sell something too cheaply, and it loses its value,” Magerl said. “If it’s free, it’s not valuable.”
Still, the free meal isn’t entirely dead in Lawrence.
McDonald’s in Lawrence gives employees $7 of food during their shift. At Jimmy Johns, employees who work an eight-hour shift get a free meal, while those working less get 60 percent off. The Burger Stand, 803 Mass., and Esquina, 801 Mass., have a similar policy.
Taylor Gustafson, a server at Dempsey’s, said she appreciated her half-priced lunch, a burger salad accompanied with a basket of fries. Gustafson works about five shifts a week and said she plans meals around her work schedule.
“Because of Dempsey’s, I don’t go to the grocery store,” Gustafson said.