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How social media is transforming your dinner

  • Social media is changing how restaurants reach their customers, says restaurateur Willie Degel.
  • Degel says restaurants are created meals based on their potential to go viral on social media.
  • Global beef prices have been rising for seven months straight.

Global beef prices may be shooting up, but a restaurateur and former Food Network host says social media, not the global meat market, is the most disruptive influence on the restaurant industry.

"Social media has changed the way people eat today," said Willie Degel, founder and CEO of Uncle Jack's Steakhouse and former host of the Food Network's "Restaurant Stakeout."

Degel said "ooey-gooey, cheesy comfort food" and food gimmicks such as "unicorn, the rainbow colors" are changing consumer preferences at restaurants because they're more likely to go viral on social media.

"It wows you, and you're so enticed to it, you're sharing these videos," Degel said Friday on CNBC's "Power Lunch."

Shifting consumer trends and behaviors, especially social media, are forcing restaurant owners to change their tactics and priorities for their businesses. Degel offers free wifi at Uncle Jack's Steakhouses, and says he installed "selfie mirrors" in the bathrooms.

"We just did a bacon-wrapped tomahawk chop," Degel said. "That's crazy. who would eat that? We would have to charge $150, $200 for that steak. But on the internet? It went viral."

Steak on grill
Richard Eskite Photography | Getty Images

But the struggle to concoct internet-breaking neon milkshakes is not the only challenge facing the restaurant industry.

Global meat prices have risen for the past seven straight months, and jumped nearly 2 percent from May to June, according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization. the most dramatic rise came from ovine, or sheep, meat, which skyrocketed by more than 30 percent from January to June.

Degel said beef prices always rise in the "grilling season," when cookouts and barbecues are the most popular and when the summer heat causes cows and other farm animals to lose weight.

The costs are even more punishing for restaurateurs such as Degel, whose three steakhouses are all located in New York City. Real estate, employees and ingredients are all more expensive in New York City than in virtually any other place in America, according to a study from The New York Times.

"Every day's a war, basically," Degel said. "I'm a general and I'm fighting this war."

— CNBC's Jeff Daniels contributed to this report.