Friday, January 16, 2009

How Restaurants (and Diners) Are Reacting to the Struggling Economy

By Charlie Byrne

This article appears courtesy of Early To Rise, a free newsletter dedicated to making money, improving health and secrets to success. For a complimentary subscription, visit

"If you really want to be sure of that 7:30 p.m. table, ask for it with a French, Spanish, or Italian accent. It will brand you as a potentially bigger spender, the kind helping restaurants outlast a weak dollar and a wobbly Dow."

This advice comes from Frank Bruni of The New York Times, reporting on how restaurants are reacting to the recession.

One noticeable trend: Americans are spending less (tap water instead of bottled water, dining at bars and counters vs. formal settings, no high-end steak and lobster), while splurging foreigners rush to take advantage of favorable exchange rates.

Result? All things being equal, restaurateurs would rather seat a table of Europeans than locals. "I mean, they're just spending. It's Monopoly money to them," said one NYC general manager.

Other notable changes:

  • Dinner rush used to occur around 7:00 to 8:00 p.m. But outside the U.S., it's is a later-evening event, so now the peak is moving to 8:30 or 9:00 p.m.
  • Less expensive ingredients lower the cost of food. For instance, using regular crabmeat instead of jumbo lump. Shiitake instead of morel mushrooms. More starches to fill out the plate.
  • Menus are featuring more single-digit appetizers and "small plates."

And restaurateurs are offering more mid-range than high-end wines. "All of our wine directors are starting to play this game more aggressively," said Paul Bolles-Beaven of the Danny Meyer group. "People are spending less on wine right now, and they're not spending to impress."

Unless, that is, they're European, adds Bruni.

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