Thursday, February 5, 2009

Economic Woes = More Empty Tables

I found this article at, which shared survey data on restaurants and dining. The survey found that the "(U.S. restaurant) business is down across the board, but only by a bit – between 10-20% was the most common response." In the survey, seven out of 10 diners said they were dining out less, but only half of them were spending less.

That's the good news.

The bad news? That survey I just quoted is now 9 months old. So you can be sure that restaurants are feeling the pain much more these days than they were in the spring of last year.

Here are some signs of how restaurants are takin' it on the chin from the worsening economy:

* Within the space of a year, unemployment in the restaurant sector has jumped from 7.8% to 9.8%.

* Here in Washington, D.C., the restaurant Citronelle (perhaps the grande dame of D.C. dining venues) has announced it will be cutting its hours and staff. As the Wash Post reports, Michel Richard and his crew will no longer serve dinner on Sunday or Monday. Sacre bleu!

* The high-end dining destinations aren't the only ones hurting. OSI Restaurant Partners, which operates Outback Steakhouse and several other restaurant chains, lost more than $46 million in the 3rd quarter of last year.

* Even fast-food giants are getting slammed. Burger King, the world's second-largest hamburger chain, reported today that its net income dropped more than 10% -- worse than most industry analysts had predicted.

* The dining-out malaise is strong enough to have created this long thread of comments on the website Chowhound.
This is totally anecdotal, but I was at the wine bar-restaurant Proof on Monday evening, and I'd say that at least 3/4 of their tables were full -- and the bar area was relatively busy too. Of course, Proof is an excellent place (one of my faves). But maybe that's a sign of hope (at least for the Washington dining market).

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