Friday, February 13, 2009

Restaurants in crisis during recession: How much should we help?

Small restaurants like Cook's Tortas, with its extensive sandwich menu, can always use your support.

Timed, I suppose, for Valentine's Day, the L.A. Times reports Cost-conscious customers wreaking havoc on ailing restaurants, confirming many reports that people are ordering fewer dishes and drinks, especially at chains like Cheesecake Factory. And the Wall St. Journal says even supermarkets are being affected in Consumers Cut Food Spending Sharply, although sales of eggs and vegetables are up, yay! I can't go along with S. Irene's sweeping suggestion that we all go to restaurants and spend money to help them survive, because most of us can't afford to eat in the kind of restaurants she frequents in the first place. So what to do? EatingLA recommends:
  • Try not to get further into debt just to help out restaurants, first of all. I'm working on that one myself. Take care of yourself first, then worry about the restaurants.
  • Whenever possible, don't spend your money at large chains. Most of them will survive no matter what; it's the family-owned smaller places that could face real trouble. Choose My Taco over Taco Bell; Canele over Cheesecake Factory. But you knew that already.
  • Cook, cook, cook. Use the best ingredients you can afford, and buy them as close to their natural state as possible. Brew your own coffee. Bake. Make breakfast at home. Pickle.
  • Take advantage of L.A.'s ethnic restaurant bounty, as these places will almost always cost far less than the upscale spots. No liquor license? Inquire as to whether you can bring your own, mix cocktails at home before or after, or stop by a wine bar after dinner.
  • Try the new recession-friendly nights, often just $15, at local restaurants such as the Park and Little Dom's. More on these soon.
  • Get a water filter and stop buying bottled water. Use the money you save to eat and drink at locally-owned restaurants and shops, and tell them to serve filtered water, too! I bought one like this since I'm renting right now, but reverse osmosis is even better.
And hope it all ends soon, and hopefully we can go back to supporting Mozza, Comme Ca and Providence while also supporting the frugal places. Have you changed your dining out habits recently? Are you cooking more, or ordering less at the restaurants you do go to?


weezermonkey said...

Ironically, I am eating like there's no tomorrow with the extended dineLA menus.

I predict, however, that March will be quite the fancy restaurant-less month for me, as a result.

Lucky for us, our income has not been affected by the economy (knock on wood), so, after we make up for the extra spending in February by cutting back in March, I suspect that our restaurant patronage will revert back to usual.

H. C. said...

Like Weezer, I've been splurgy this month to take advantage of DineLA spots that would otherwise be out of my reach (w/o going into debt, of course) and I anticipate March will be a frugal dine-out month for me. Oh well, gives me time to trim away at that backlog.

Too bad it also means I'll be bailing out on some other fun food happenings in the next few weeks

Anonymous said...

We're also in a fairly good position income-wise, but we're still keeping an eye on expenses. We're eating out two weekend lunches (Cook's Tortas last Sat., thanks to your review!) and two dinners a week (usually moderately priced -- sometimes a little more), probably down one or two dinners from before the recession.

We're a lot more cautious than we used to be in trying new restaurants, doing research and reading reviews to make sure we really want to try them. We've also stopped eating out not because we want to, but because we're too tired or lazy to throw together a dinner. And we only go places we really like instead of "okay" places that really just save us the bother of cooking (e.g. Coffee Table, Alcove).

One good thing we're doing, however, is leaving slightly larger tips than we used to. We were always good for 20%, but now we're rounding up a bit from that, sometimes up to 25%. I've read that a lot of people will slash tips in order to afford dinner, and that's not helping the situation.

Also, we stopped hitting chains years ago, unless we're on the road and there really is no other choice.

Anonymous said...

We were already eating out a lot less, eschewing coffeehouses in lieu of homebrewed coffee (getting beans from local roasters) and trying to stick to locally owned places (I have no problem with local micro chains like Roscoe's and La Estrella) but since my husband got laid off yesterday, I have a feeling we'll be eating at home for a while, period. One thing I've been doing is tipping 20% or more (definitely more when the check is very small). The servers are the ones who get hit first and hardest because most people tip less when money is tight.

I don't know if we can afford to keep getting our local coffee beans. TJ's may not be as good, but it's half the price for the same amount of coffee. I hate turning my back on local businesses, when so many people depend on them for jobs. But when we're out of jobs, what can we do? Nasty cycle.

Kolchak said...

Vote the Democrats out of office now! Start with city council, then Sacramento, then Washington. The stimulus is a joke. Cut taxes for small businesses, zero capital gains tax, and employee hire taxes. These measures will help restaurants which are small businesses. Obama spends 800 billion dollars and does not keep his campaign promise to help small business. Democrats only know how to Tax, tax, tax. That means less money for you and me. Less money to restaurants. That means unemployed Cooks and Chefs. Let's take this country back and put the power in the hands of the American people instead of a bunch of slick talking bureaucrats.

Miles said...

Don't be ridiculous about the stimulus package. The only thing that is ridiculous about it is that it's not enough. Cutting taxes is not going to jumpstart the economy because even with a few extra dollars in our pockets, most people are too freaked out to do anything but pay off debt and save. The government is the only entity left with the ability to turnaround the economy. A huge majority of economists agree. Sheesh.

That said, we are eating a lot more at home, but when we do go out, we are tipping more also.