Skip to main content

Aaron Yen orders his meal of fried chicken at a Filipino franchise Jollibee in Vancouver, B.C., on Aug. 11.Jimmy Jeong/The Globe and Mail

Aaron Yen is paying more than ever for his Vancouver restaurant meals this summer. “You could probably get White Spot burger pre-COVID for around $10 to $12,” said the 27-year-old. “Now it’s around $15 to $16.”

He is seeing changes at upscale eateries too. There are far more tasting menus – such as omakase, sushi prepared one piece at a time – which of course cost more than the average meal.

Mr. Yen estimates he’s spending $200 to $250 a week on eating out, up from a pre-pandemic level of $100 to $150.

He isn’t alone. According to payment processing firm Moneris, which tracks credit and debit card spending, Canadians spent an average of $48.99 per visit at bars in May, 2022, up 15 per cent from $42.51 in May, 2019, while the average transaction size at restaurants rose 21 per cent to $46.89 from $38.80.

To deal with soaring prices for everything from meat and produce to alcohol and restaurant supplies – inflation soared to its highest rate in almost four decades in June, hitting 8.1 per cent, though it settled back down to 7.6 per cent in July – businesses are hiking the amounts they charge for food and drinks.

But that’s not stopping pandemic-weary Canadians eager to get back out and spend again. Statistics Canada data shows that April sales at restaurants and bars rebounded above pre-pandemic levels for the first time in two years and were up another 3 per cent in May. Dining rooms and patios appear full again this summer.

Inflation is squeezing our finances. The Stress Test podcast looks at what we can do about it

Food inflation may have peaked. But don’t expect prices to soon fall, say experts

Restaurant reopenings have been both a blessing and a curse for 27-year-old Yvonne Ly of Toronto, who was able to double her automatic deposits to her investment accounts, from $500 to $1,000, during the pandemic with money she saved during the lockdowns.

Thankfully, she got a raise over that period, which has allowed her to keep up her increased deposits while also spending more at bars and restaurants. She estimates those expenses have doubled to about $300 a week.

“There’s a term for this: It’s revenge spending,” Ms. Ly said. “You’re taking revenge, trying to get back the lost time. Everyone, myself and my friends, we’re trying to reap the most of summer and we’re going out more, often at a higher cost now.”

To compensate, she has been cutting back on other expenses, such as fitness classes. She used to pay about $30 twice a week, but she’s now going once a week or less.

She and her dining companions have also made compromises together. Ms. Ly has a “standing appointment” with a group of friends to visit a restaurant together every two weeks. They add suggestions and keep it all organized with a shared spreadsheet.

“We noticed that we were spending a lot of money on restaurants. … Before, there were a lot of three- and four-dollar-sign places, but we agreed to put more two-dollar-sign places,” she said, referring to the system for rating the cost of a meal.

To help manage budgets for dining out, Cindy Marques, a Toronto-based certified financial planner with many millennial clients, recommends reviewing the menu before visiting a restaurant to get a sense of how much a meal will cost. “Before I go out, I already have an idea of what I’m going to order and roughly what I’m going to spend,” she explained. “I can go into that and not be shocked when I get the bill or feel guilty about it.”

Ms. Ly doesn’t use a budgeting app or have a set spending limit for bars and restaurants, but Ms. Marques says people who do should re-evaluate their drinking and dining budgets over the summer.

Increase that limit 50 per cent or even double it, she said. “I’m not saying aim to spend that amount, but be fair to yourself and assume that you might want to and will probably end up doing so. It’s better to at least be prepared for it.”

If you’re dining out with a group that tends to split bills evenly, it can be tricky to stick to a budget or order modestly. “Sometimes it’s an uncomfortable conversation to be a little forthcoming with your intentions,” Ms. Marques said. “You need to be clear about that up front. Say: ‘Hey, I’m on a roll with sticking to my budget. Do you mind if I pay my bill separately?’ It’s not necessarily fair if everyone around you is ordering quite a bit more.”

With summertime and pent-up restaurant socializing in full force, Ms. Marques says millennials with preternaturally amped-up saving habits may need to re-evaluate. “I’ve had clients who really accelerated their savings during the pandemic,” she said. “Some of them felt disheartened when they realized it wasn’t something they could maintain any more.”

In some cases, people are pushing timelines back for milestones such as homeownership as their ability to save can’t keep up with all the extra spending. “What I’ve been doing with a lot of clients is reassessing timelines for those goals,” she said. “Maybe it’s fine if you’re saving less and you’re still on track. You need to revisit what the goals are and what it takes to get there.”

Both Mr. Yen and Ms. Ly said that down payments for a first home are their main financial goals at the moment. Mr. Yen hopes to buy a home in the next five years. He is confident he can still do it, despite his increased restaurant spending, thanks to promotions he earned during the pandemic.

Ms. Ly, on the other hand, doesn’t have a firm timeline for her home purchase. “It’s just something that I kind of chug away at,” she said. “If I had a specific time, I would be much more aggressive and would be more careful with my spending.”


Are you a young Canadian with money on your mind? To set yourself up for success and steer clear of costly mistakes, listen to our award-winning Stress Test podcast.