Eating Out in a Depressed Economy

How does fear of money woes weigh on the value of a meal and determine what restaurant people want to go to? As the economy sinks further and further, restaurants dig deeper into their bag of tricks to find a way to keep the customers crawling back. With less money and no signs of much to come, the instinct is for customers to tuck their tails between their legs and stay home with their stoves. I’m not the first to find this out–a search around the internet will turn up the myriad of food writers discussing the transition of Americans back into their kitchens, highlighting only the cheapest of the cheap deals at local restaurants–two for one, free appetizers, happy hours, whatever it is they can think of to pull in the people.

While it is pretty much established that Americans will be finally learning their way around those Viking ranges they bought back when life looked good, the fact is there will be some restaurants that do better and some that do worse as the economy swirls itself down the drain. How will this fiscal situation determine where people eat?

A recent comment on my blog was shocked that in reviewing a new local restaurant, I declared our $70 meal for two an excellent value. “In this tanking economy?” Kelly asked me. Well, yes! As a diner, I felt that the ambience, the service and the flavors added up to far more than I spent, so that meant good value to me. Value, however, is a tricky word, as Kelly supplemented her comment suggesting two other nearby places at a much lower price point that she felt had better value. I don’t happen to like these places. I have been to both (more times than I care to admit) and been disappointed each time that I had spent the $15-20 they cost me. To me, there is far more value and enjoyment involved in going out half (or a third) as often and getting an experience that I consider valuable, rather than going out for the sake of going out, and having to limit myself to places where you get what you are paying for–and you’re not paying much.

That is not to say there are not a great number of cheap restaurants that I enjoy very much, however, as the eating out becomes less and less of a regular thing around my house, I want more and more from those times I do leave the house. I want all the whimsy of waiters waiting, candles flickering and food tantalizing. That’s my personal feeling on things and I’m sure that there are many people with a different strategy for dealing with the recession in relation to restaurant dining habits.

As all of us together enter this time of penny pinching, I know we’ll all choose different ways to keep the coins in our pockets. However, for the sake of all restaurants, I hope that people will find their own way to make themselves feel like they get their money’s worth when they eat out so that the many wonderful restaurants out there can continue to make fabulous food!

What’s your strategy for enjoying a restaurant meal in the current economy?

The Gastrognome (She Eats and Tells)