NEW YORK — Fall's cool winds could make eating out cheap a breeze — depending, that is, on what you order.
After a second quarter of too many empty tables and falling profits, restaurant companies are planning to woo diners back with lower-priced dishes as the weather grows colder.
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But consumers won't see discounts across the board, since many chains have either already raised prices on select items like steak or are planning to do so in the next few months to cover still-high food, energy and labor costs.
Boston Market, for example, first offered five of its most popular meals for $4.99 in July. Seven other menu items were lowered to about $5 in August. The meals regularly cost closer to $7.
"We've been able to pick things that offer the biggest value," said spokeswoman Angela Proctor.
But other items, including the chain's roasted sirloin, have become more expensive in the past year. Boston Market raised prices on several of its menu offerings earlier in the year — a strategy Proctor said has given the chain some "balance" as operating costs stay high.
Burger King Corp., meanwhile, added two new items this week to its value menu — the Cheesy Bacon BK Wrapper and the Spicy Chicken BK Wrapper — for $1.39.
Just weeks earlier, though, Chief Executive John Chidsey told investors that the chain will probably increase its menu prices to offset a 5 percent to 7 percent rise in food costs during this fiscal year, which started in August. Chidsey offered no details on how much more customers can expect to pay for Whoppers and other signature items, saying only that the chain will "monitor what the competition does."
Fast food restaurants and casual dining chains have been increasing prices steadily for the past year, largely to combat far higher costs for food caused by soaring grain prices that have trickled through the food chain.
Menu prices in July were on average 4.2 percent higher than they were a year ago, according to Hudson Riehle, senior vice president of research and information services at the National Restaurant Association.