Where’s the Beef? Expect Less Meat, Higher Prices at Steakhouses

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For steak lovers, this is like a knife to the heart: Thanks to soaring meat costs, it’s growing common for steakhouses to raise menu prices at the same time they’re decreasing portion sizes. In some cases, even appetizers are nearing $20 a pop.

In recent months, consumers have been subjected to sharp increases in the prices of chicken wings, bacon, and peanut butter, among other foods. Beef prices have been rising as well.

The Wall Street Journal cites data from the food research firm Technomic, revealing that beef prices have increased 30% over the past two years, including a 10% rise from February 2011 to February 2012. The fallout can be witnessed on both the menus and dinner plates of high-end steakhouses in New York City. At Michael Jordan’s The Steakhouse, for instance, owners seem set on raising the price of its $44 strip steak by a few dollars, even as it decreased the serving size from 16 oz. to 15 oz. last year. Other restaurants have tacked on an extra $10 to premium orders of ribeye, New York strip, and prime rib, or have jacked up appetizer prices in order to compensate for higher-priced beef.

(MORE: The Meatless (and Less Meat) Revolution)

Some restaurants have resorted to especially sneaky techniques in order to sell diners on the idea that they’re not, in fact, getting less while paying more:

George Faison, an owner of DeBragga & Spitler, a meat purveyor in Jersey City, said his customers are buying more affordable cuts of beef or asking them to leave the bone in meat so portion sizes appear bigger to avoid raising prices.

“The typical rib bone is 5 to 6 inches in length so they’ll ask to leave it 8 inches in length,” he said. “You’re not getting more meat … the plate appearance is more dramatic.”

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The problem of pricier beef isn’t limited to New York City—San Francisco steakhouses were griping about rising prices last year—nor exclusively to high-end steakhouses. One of the biggest trends for all restaurants in 2012 named by Technomic is using “cheaper cuts of meat” with beans and grains in order to create “home-style food,” which also happens to be more cost-effective to make and serve.

According to experts consulted by the Huffington Post, higher beef prices are here to stay at least through the year:

“Last year, we averaged $4.83 a pound,” Ronald Plain, an agricultural economist at the University of Missouri, told The Huffington Post. “And I expect we’re going to average $5.10 and $5.15 in 2012.”

(MORE: Why Are So Many People Freezing Food?)

Interestingly enough, it’s been suggested that the ideal time of year to buy meat is early spring, i.e., right now. The theory is that meat prices rise with the onset of peak barbecue season, starting around Memorial Day weekend for most of the country. Even though meat prices seem high now, they’re likely to be more expensive in the summer. The idea is to stock up on meat now and then freeze it, defrost, and barbecue when the weather cooperates and the desire arises.

Brad Tuttle is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @bradrtuttle. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

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