Dining » Fat Mouth

Whine and Dine

Hey, if the economy's hurting your dining-out budget, learn how to cook!


A lot of waiters and waitresses in town — including a few at famous, long-established restaurants — have been complaining to me that dinner business has been off since the subprime lending fiasco knocked the stock market on its rear.

When I was a waiter, any blip in the economy kept diners at home for a few weeks. That was especially true after Black Monday — October 19, 1987 — when the Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped dramatically. My tip average plummeted even lower. I didn't fret about it too much because I was working in a modestly priced restaurant and I knew that my customers preferred eating pasta con broccoli out to cooking up spaghetti and meatballs at home. After a few stingy weeks, the out-to-dinner crowds were back in full force — and ordering the most expensive dishes on the menu.

The restaurant trade magazine Restaurants and Institutions predicted some gloom and doom last week; a story by senior editor Allison Perlik reported that 40 percent of Americans were eating out less often than they had been six months ago and that 54 percent planned to cut back even further in the next three months.

That worried me a little until I also read this: "Pre-boomers and baby boomers — all core casual-dining users — were among 26 percent of consumers who say they are willing to spend more on restaurant meals." Perlik's article suggests that low-income, female and Gen-X diners are spending less dough on eating out, but boomers earning more than $50,000 are willing to spend more, particularly for high-quality fare.

The flip side of this economic downturn, Perlik discovered, was that "food quality outpaced price and convenience" as motivation for most consumers choosing a restaurant.

I can understand that. Even during times when I was pinching pennies hardest, I still ate at full-service restaurants when I went out. Unlike my own customers, I wanted something that I couldn't make at home.

Here's why one veteran waiter friend of mine isn't worried about the economy hurting his business: "Most of my customers don't know how to cook."

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