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Higher restaurant prices not stopping Albertans from eating out

WATCH: The new chair of a national hospitality industry group details tough times for restaurants and bars, and calls for better cooperation from government.

In the final month of 2017, Albertans spent a record $789 million dining out in restaurants and bars — but the increase in spending was largely due to higher menu costs, according ATB Financial.

This, after data from Statistics Canada showed Albertans spent less money eating out last October and November than they did in previous months. The financial institution said after the two months of decline, restaurant and bar receipts in Alberta ended the year on an upswing.

Restaurant food prices grew 2.5 per cent last year and were the direct result of higher wage costs, ATB said.

READ MORE: Minimum wage debate reignites after data shows Albertans are spending less at restaurants

In September, Alberta’s minimum wage jumped from $12.20 an hour to $13.60 per hour. The governing NDP has promised to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour in October.

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Throughout 2017, Alberta restaurants offset higher wage costs by increasing the price of menu items but ATB said that did little to dissuade Albertans from eating and drinking outside the home.

READ MORE: Alberta restaurants say cumulative effect of ‘hostile policies’ is ‘death by a thousand cuts’

Total restaurant and bar receipts grew by $217 million last year, which ATB said was a little more than two per cent over 2016.

The financial institution said the overall improvement in energy prices, labour market conditions and an increase in wages have resulted in growing consumer confidence and led more people to enjoy nights out.

While it’s good news for the hospitality industry, ATB cautioned the rise could be partially fueled by credit — so elevated levels of household debt and higher interest rates may begin to cut into revenues in the months ahead.