Pegitboard News

How San Francisco restaurant prices have changed in recent years

How San Francisco restaurant prices have changed in recent years

You aren't imagining it — everything in San Francisco is getting more expensive, not just the median home price. 


The cost of living continues to rise in the city, and the surge is visible even when one sits down to dinner at a local restaurant.


Take San Francisco's infamous $4 toast, which set off a media firestorm and outraged the nation in 2013. "You can make it at home!" they said. "It's just bread!"


Today, the average fancy toast in the city costs far more than $4. (SFGATE crunched the figures in December). That's indicative of an overall trend in living — as the years tick up, so do menu prices.


SFGATE dug through Yelp to find 5- to 10-year-old menus from classic San Francisco restaurants (we used this list) to see how the prices have fluctuated over time. All of the restaurants we profiled have upped their prices over the last few years, with the biggest increases applied to entrees (side dishes and beverages remained relatively stable in price).

Higher prices make sense for multiple reasons. For one, there's inflation. Since 2012, prices have increased by 8 percent across the country ($1 in 2012 is the equivalent of $1.08 in 2018). There are also fluctuations in the market; when supply is low and demand high, the cost will often reflect that.

Restaurants must also consider competitors' pricing. If Restaurant A sells a similar product as Restaurant B, and Restaurant B ups its dollar signs, Restaurant A would be wise to do the same. Running a restaurant is a business, after all.


For the past 30 years, most restaurants have raised prices about 2.9 percent each year, according to a CNBC report. San Francisco is somewhat unique compared to the rest of the country.

San Francisco restaurants spend six to 10 percent of total overhead on rent, 30 to 40 percent on food and 40 to 60 percent on labor, a 2015 Esquire report found. The latter percentage is higher than in most places.

The minimum hourly wage in San Francisco is currently $14 and it will rise to $15 by July 2018. Plus, there's no tip credit, meaning workers will earn at least $12.25 per hour, plus tips. Restaurants with 20 employees or more also have a required hourly spend for healthcare.


That's a lot of added cost for labor alone. Plus, more and more diners today seek high-quality, ethically sourced food when eating out. That's going to run up the dollar signs.


All things considered, you might be surprised at just how little prices have increased in the past decade or so. In November, SFGATE's Amy Graff unearthed a menu from a 1941 Thanksgiving dinner at San Francisco's Golden Pheasant. Shrimp cocktail, steak, pheasant layer cake and a stiff drink could be had for just $1.25, in total. See more historic menus by clicking here.


Click through the above gallery for a look at old San Francisco restaurant menus, and how their prices have changed through the years. 


Michelle Robertson is an SFGATE staff writer. Email her at mrobertson@sfchronicle.com or find her on Twitter at @mrobertsonsf.