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Published: Jul 20, 2022 5 min read
Illustration symbolizing an inflation monster spewing Yelp reviews, approaching a small person
Rangely García for Money

Want to know just how much Americans are feeling the sting of inflation? Check the reviews on Yelp.

A report released Wednesday by the crowd-sourced reviews service shows users are referencing inflated prices in their reviews of businesses more than ever before. Between April and June 2022, mentions of inflation in Yelp reviews shot up 28% compared to the same period in 2021 and 33% from those months in 2020.

“Yelp data shows consumers are experiencing inflation at record rates, with some states experiencing inflation more than others,” the authors of the report wrote, “and for the first time, consumers are reporting experiences of shrinkflation in their reviews.”

Shrinkflation” occurs when businesses shrink the size of their products but charge the same (or maybe even a slightly higher) price. A company might do this to recoup some of the higher operation costs it faces due to inflation without noticeably jacking up its prices.

But Yelp’s data suggests Americans are catching on — and calling businesses out for it. Casual restaurants, which tend to have lower prices to begin with, are being flooded with complaints about shrinkflation.

“Consumers are talking about shrinkflation-related experiences most commonly at restaurants serving more affordable offerings like hot dogs, hamburgers, pizza, followed by seafood, restaurants, Italian food and Chinese food,” the authors wrote.

Case in point: “Shrinkflation is real at SS [Shake Shack],” New Yorker Kieun L. wrote in a one-star Yelp review of the fast-casual burger chain. “I can no longer justify paying $10+ for a burger that pales in quality and size.” On the other side of the country, a Yelp user highlighted smaller takeout boxes at the Chinese food chain Panda Express. “Shrinkflation at work,” wrote Tim B. of California. “I would have rather seen a price increase.”

In June, consumer prices rose 9.1% year over year, according to the latest numbers from the U.S. Labor Department. Overall, food prices jumped 10.4%, while prices for “food away from home” — which roughly translates to the cost of dining out — rose 7.7% over the same period.

While the nation is experiencing inflation levels unseen since the 1980s, those price increases aren’t felt uniformly across the country.

Yelp’s data reflects this: For example, reviewers in South Dakota mentioned inflation more than any other state by a landslide, logging a 127% increase in inflation-related language between April and June 2022 compared to the previous year. (On the other end of the spectrum, Yelp says reviews from North Dakota saw a 27% drop in mentions of inflation.)

Here’s a quick look of the top five states where Yelpers are feeling inflation — along with the types of businesses that are fueling the trend.

  1. South Dakota: Mentions of inflation increased 127% from 2021. Residents mentioned inflation the most in restaurant reviews.
  2. Montana: Mentions of inflation increased 46%. Residents mentioned inflation the most in retailer reviews.
  3. Idaho: Mentions of inflation increased 44%. Residents mentioned inflation the most in reviews for businesses related to nightlife.
  4. Arizona: Mentions of inflation increased 41%. Residents mentioned inflation the most in reviews for food businesses.
  5. Nevada: Mentions of inflation increased 37%. Residents mentioned inflation the most in reviews for professional services (such as lawyers, architects or accountants).

Companies — especially restaurants — changing up their offerings to cope with inflation isn't a new phenomenon. In April 1979, when the inflation rate was north of 10%, the New York Times detailed how Big Mac prices were jumping at McDonald's and, at sit-down restaurants, menus were shrinking, with fancy appetizers being replaced by salads.

Patrons weren't happy then, either. They just didn't have Yelp to voice their frustration.

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