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My wife and I were at a Swiss Chalet not too long ago for dinner before a movie and they were too full to accommodate us. I am not kidding.

With close to all the tables seemingly occupied, a server apologetically explained that they would not be seating new customers at that time because they were short-staffed and very busy.

Food is where the inflation run-up of the past year has been felt most painfully, both in grocery stores and restaurants. But restaurant spending has until recently held up well enough for Swiss Chalet to be turning hungry customers away.

Recent numbers on restaurant spending have been up and down. But the results of a recent Carrick on money survey suggest cutbacks may be coming in spending at restaurants.

We asked people how they’ve changed their restaurant-going and grocery shopping habits in response to high food costs. You can see below that 80 per cent of the 1,485 people who responded said they’re eating out less. Other common tactics for managing costs suggest people who do go out to eat will spend less on booze, and avoid expensive restaurants. One in 10 said they would tip less.

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The Globe and Mail

Restaurants were among the hardest hit sectors in the pandemic lockdowns. Since reopening, they’ve had to deal with food inflation and a tight labour market that has required them in some cases to raise wages to attract staff. Prices had to go up, and customers paid up as they celebrated the wind-down of pandemic restrictions.

But prices today are jarringly expensive in many cases. I’ve picked up more than a few menus in recent months and marvelled at the cost of even routine items like burgers. Pricey entrees that used to be in the low $30 range have pushed into the $40 neighbourhood and beyond in some cases.

There’s a lot of speculation these days about whether the economy will fall into recession. Restaurant spending could be a leading indicator of a downturn.

By the way, the Swiss Chalet saga has a happy ending. We drove to another location, got served quickly and made our movie on time. The fries were excellent, as expected.

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Rob’s personal finance reading list

36 tips for saving on groceries

What I like about this list is that it’s long, detailed and likely to leave you with something you didn’t already know about fighting high food costs.

The other sneaky ways companies are raising prices

You know about shrinkflation, right? That’s smaller packaging for the same or a higher cost. The New York Times recently wrote about another form of stealth price hikes that we’re seeing a lot of lately. It’s extra hidden fees in the cost of hotels, flights and tickets to big events. Another sneaky way to increase costs is something called slack-fill, where packaging is much larger than the food inside.

Ignore these food expiration dates

Chef and food writer James Kenji López-Alt explains that the expiration date on a lot of food – a LOT – does not have to be followed to the letter. Food in many cases lasts much longer than you think.

Starbucks rewards get less rewarding

In a recent column, I advised people to use up their reward points before they’re devalued or made less useful. Now comes news that Starbucks has changed its reward program so that you need more points to get free drinks and food.

Ask Rob

Q: I have recently been shocked to find out that my online broker had taken the minimum annual out of my registered retirement income fund. As the stocks in the RRIF are not doing very well, I was planning on delaying taking money out. It turns out that there was an automatic withdrawal program – I sure wish they would have sent out a reminder about this and saved me from having to sell stocks that are underwater. Do you know if this is done at other companies?

A: Brokers are very careful to ensure that clients with RRIFs do not overlook the required minimum annual withdrawal. As a result, they may schedule automatic withdrawals to ensure the rules are followed. If there’s not enough cash in a RRIF account to cover the automatic withdrawal, it’s possible that some holdings will be sold. The lesson here for RRIF-holders is to find out if their broker has automatic RRIF withdrawals and, if needed, issue alternative instructions. Note that RRIF-holders can make in-kind withdrawals of securities and transfer the assets to a tax-free savings account or nonregistered account. You don’t have to sell stocks or funds that are down in price.

Do you have a question for me? Send it my way. Sorry I can't answer every one personally. Questions and answers are edited for length and clarity.

Today’s financial tool

A good introduction to guaranteed investment certificates, which have caught fire with investors because they offer a way to lock in today’s high interest rates for up to five years, and sometimes even more.

The Money-Free Zone

From the vault – a classic early 70s soul band called Segments of Time. Their self-titled album is tuneful, but with political bite on songs like Doing Time in Poverty.

Who I’m following on Twitter

Financial planner Mark McGrath, for a smart, practical take on investing, taxes and more.

In case you missed these Globe and Mail personal finance-related stories

More Rob Carrick and money coverage

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