Sagging Economy Is Bitter Dish for Restaurateurs

With 12-15% slump forecast in fine dining for '09, some close down, others plug deals
By Clay Dillow,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 23, 2009 12:55 PM CST
As the economy dips, families are turning from the pricey fare of Jean Georges to the cheaper home comforts of Martha.   (AP Photo)
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(Newser) – Lean times are perhaps leanest in the restaurant business, and fine-dining establishments are bracing for a particularly tough year while improvising strategies to remain afloat, the Wall Street Journal reports. Sales, $7 billion last year, are expected to plummet 12-15%; the industry could shed 12,000-18,000 restaurants, a 2-3% decline compared to usual growth of 1-2%.

Tactics like cutting operating hours, adding brunches, and even offering “honor bars” have emerged as owners battle unsavory economic conditions that are the top concern of 47% of restaurateurs. Fine dining will be hardest hit; as customers trade down for lower-cost fare, sales are expected to decline 2.5% overall for full-service restaurants, while quick service will grow by 0.4%.