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Has the Economy Changed How & Where You Eat?

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Have you been eating differently lately because of the economy?

A friend who works at one of those high-end cookware shops in an upscale neighborhod,says that sales are "going through the roof", Why? Because people have decided they don't want to spend money on/feel they can't afford the small luxuries of a fancy coffee drink or lots of restaurant meals. Instead, they're buying coffee/cappucino makers, slow cookers and waffle makers so they can treat themselves at home.

Has that been your experience?

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  1. Not so far (not saying it won't happen) as food is our thing and also we are empty nesters, so we're not feeding a large family or the like. But I have to say while I have not started making changes, I have started contemplating where the changes will be made if/when the time comes.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Janet from Richmond

      Similar story here. We're not quite empty nesters (the kid just got home from college for the summer), but I work from a home office so gas is irrelevant, and we're in the middle of the city so we can walk to plenty of good restaurants. But we both love to cook so we only eat out about once a week and choose a place based solely on the food, not the cost.

      And we already have more than enough kitchen contraptions for everything we like to make.

    2. having my monthly gasoline cost to fuel our suv go from $720/month to $840/month has made us cut back on going out a couple of times a month, and attempt to stick to a weekly grocery budget of around $100. Its a balancing act.

      We are using more leftovers for meals during the week, ordering less carryout, spending less on tequila, and not going out for drinks. On the flip side, we still spend as much on our daughter for toys, etc, and I did just buy a new lawn tractor for myself. We are also going for a weeks vacation, to be with family, and eat and drink like kings, next month in Hilton Head, so times are not as bad as the media makes them out to be.

      1 Reply
      1. re: swsidejim


        We're sorry, but we've removed some posts about posters' gas mileage/gas expenses etc. While we understand that the cost of gas is a factor here, please help us keep this discussion focused on chow.

        Thank you.

      2. I've heard it's a new fad to be "frugal" and I have heard well-off people using the word to describe themselves lately. Me, I'm putting in a small vegetable garden this year to augment my herb garden (supposedly another fad, hate to be such a sheep!), and find it hard to resist popping in Spanish/Oriental markets and dollar stores to supplement my usual grocery shopping. No new high end appliances, thank God, I have enough of them from the good ol' days.

        1 Reply
        1. re: coll

          Thankfully, no, not yet. Since we didn't eat out more than once a week anyway, I still go where I please.

        2. I went from full-time career work back to part-time retail work last fall so that more than anything else changed our dining out habits. We've cut back to about once every ten days now since we don't have my old income anymore. We also were getting very jaded on dining out so it was actually really easy to cut back. We really don't miss how often we used to eat out at all. Since we don't go out as often as we used to, we are a lot more discriminate about where we go. That's probably been the biggest difference compared to when we were going out 4+ times a week.

          Since the first of the year i've been watching the grocery bill more closely...I was never one to really pay attention but with food prices getting so much higher so much faster it's hard not to notice and once you do...well it's easy to start to try and save. I shaved $300 off our grocery bill last month fairly easily by shopping less, choosing more carefully at the store and cooking around what's on sale and what's less expensive. We haven't suffered in terms of taste adn enjoyment at all.

          I have to say I also work in a high end cookware shop and our sales have been anything but "through the roof". We did well the last part of last week and over the weekend for mother's day but other than that this year has been very painful. We're in Phoenix though and this area is badly hit by the housing crisis so the shop your friend works in may have different demographics.

          1. I wonder if the people buying the high-end kitchen equipment are actually saving money in the long run, or just buying dust collectors and will be switching back to eating out, etc....

            I've definitely made some cuts, number one being meat. Cheaper steaks to marinate instead of extremely expensive and more tender cuts of beef. Whole chickens or less processed chicken instead of boneless, skinless thighs/breasts. Adding more pork, which is a bit cheaper than beef/chicken.

            Also, we've taken to eating more economical things like breakfast, sandwiches, and a lot of pasta for dinner (not all at the same time). Thank goodness summer is coming to michigan and the abundance of produce will hopefully drive prices down a little at the farmer's markets.

            2 Replies
            1. re: charlesbois

              >>I wonder if the people buying the high-end kitchen equipment are actually saving money

              I wonder what they were cooking with before!

            2. Definitely more mindful of how much I spend at the grocery store but we still go out for dinner at about the same levels. We never really went to any highend restaurants more than a few times a year. One thing I have been doing which has had an incredibly positive effect on my monthly cash flow: I switched jobs from an uptown (40 minute commute) to a close-to-home ad agency. The agency is out in the middle of no where (IMO) so I have been bringing my lunch every day. HUGE cost savings and I've been able to drop ten pounds since the holidays without really trying. I use up leftovers, cook more during the week. And here's the best part - because my commute is so much shorter, even with spike in gas prices, I'm filling up half as often.

              1. My answer would have to be Yes and No. I have been in this F&B business, wearing different hats, for many years before retiring some years ago. As a former teaching chef, I am tough to take out - I heartily dislike paying for a mediocre product or something I can easily prepare and would much prefer to dine in the comfort of my own home, shoes off. Maybe "heartily dislike" isn't strong enough, substitute "despise & detest".

                I/we tend to eat out at two polar opposites -- high-end spots or ethnic dives with very little in between. Add into the mix: we live in AZ which has just instituted draconian DUI laws so it mandates a driver if one even contemplates alcohol, coupled with our location which is at least 45 minutes from most restaurants of choice. High-end just became a whole lot higher.

                Since I enjoy cooking, I view this situation as a challenge. I would much prefer to cook delicious food at home - for just the two of us or dinner company - than blow a couple of hundred dollars for meeeh. Paying for great food does not count as "blowing", it is a joy.

                I will happily pay more money for quality product. I buy great eggs which cost several times more than grocery store eggs but are worth the cost to me. I drive a long distance to the weekly Farmers' Market for great produce and am happy to pay that cost as well. We eat several meatless meals weekly but not for their money-saving feature; we like it this way. (I buy very good cheese which offsets any no-meat $$ savings.) I find it a challenge to make the best Bolognese or Coq au Vin that I possibly can produce. When we eat scallops, again at home, they are high quality.

                I recently posted about a stellar high-end meal (La Hacienda, Scottsdale AZ) and wouldn't hesitate to repeat this. At the same time, we had a delicious vegetable pasta for supper last night - I made some fresh parsley pasta and dressed it with asparagus, mange-touts, garden carrots & baby peas that cost about one dollar start to finish. Tonight we're having something with the duck stock that I made last week.

                We can afford to eat out often but for some of the reasons I've already mentioned, choose not to. Is our decision a result of "The Economy"? For us it is not. We've lived like this for years -- maybe we were trendsetters and just didn't know it.

                1 Reply
                1. re: Sherri

                  This is an interesting topic; are people spending less, and are they seeing it as deprivation? Spending less, to some, might mean ramen noodle packets, or canned soup. To others, it means bulk grains, home grown veggies, less (or different) meat, and ethnic cuisines for inspiration.
                  My husband and I have drastically changed our habits lately, but for reasons of more personal economy than national economy-- had a new baby, quit my job! Funny thing is, though, the habits we got rid of were more out of laziness than true preference. We used to eat out pretty frequently (more than once a week for sure) but not so much because we were craving the wonderful food to be had. Rather, we'd eat out because we hadn't thought about what to make for dinner, or didn't want to bother -- even though we both LOVE to cook and, in our humble opinions, are pretty good at it.
                  Since a few months before our son was born, we've been living on the "envelope system" -- deciding at the beginning of the month how much to spend on what-- groceries, $450. And each of us gets $100 in "fun tickets" which we might spend on a dinner out, wine or beer here and there, etc. We don't live in a big city (therefore no cheap wonderful ethnic temptations) so maybe that's making this a bit easier.
                  So what I'm finding is that it feels really good to be thinking, planning, looking forwrad to meals in a different kind of way. It's been fun to make great food (in the unpredictable pockets of time available when my son, now 4 months old, naps.) My husband just called home, for example, and asked if we needed anything for tonight-- after rummaging, I found the makings of a very respectable Mexican-ish salad-based dinner, and he's just going to grab a can of green chiles. Yesterday, I made a chicken pot pie from scratch.
                  Like the poster above, we still spend a bit of money on the ingredients we really feel we 'need' to eat well, but even there we don't feel the need to gripe about costs. Our local "whole-foods" type store sells bulk spices that are cheap enough when bought that way that we have a well stocked spice cabinet. We buy blocks of good Italian cheese. We visit the farmers' market during MT's short but happy growing season, but happily buy big bags of really good frozen organic produce at Costco the rest of the year.
                  It's kind of like my 'transportation' discovery last year, when we dropped down to one car: Walking to work (2 miles for me) was better for my health, my pocketbook, my mindset and the planet. Spending less on food seems to be the same for me!

                2. For my household, a combination of a brutal visit from the tax man on 4/15 and rising gas prices (i proudly drive a sports car requiring high octane gas for performance engine) has put a huge damper on our dining out habits. Where we would previously spend >$300 per week dining out or bringing in carry-out meals, we are spending much more time dining in or pizza/subs/low-cost delivery type foods.
                  Regarding your comment about buying new cookware- no way! I'm not even buying new underwear, why would I spend 100's on new pots and pans? My only luxury these days is the good wine we continue to drink AT HOME.

                  1. As Whitney Houston might say "Hells to the yas!" Gas, home heating, higher food costs...My community is feeling it and so am I...

                    Dining out was once a once a week thing...No longer. We are lucky if we can afford to hit our favorite rests once a month. And when we do go out? We are lucky if our friends can join us- they too just don't have as much to spend on food and wine.

                    As for dining in? I'm glad it's almost summer...Buying produce at the farmer's market will save me a bundle. And when was the last time I bought a nice balsamic? Or a bottle of wine over $50? It goes on and on... As some before me said, it's all about balance.

                    I strike my balance by getting rid of my expensive car...The money I will save in gas, insurance etc will, in part, be spent on wine, cheese and the "high end" items I just can't afford right now...and yes, a few nice dinners out- although I'll have to ride my bike to get there!

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: Bunnyfood

                      Re: biking to restaurants:

                      Bunnyfood, this is a great way to eat out. You get the exercise from biking, and you feel better after because you feel you've earned it. I also find that I eat a little less and drink a little less because I have to bike home. The bike home helps digestion and lets me sleep better after a rich meal. All great things! But much more difficult in the Northern Countries. I am not a snow biker. Hence my problem with "Winter Weight" and "Summer Weight". Dang! The Winter Weight is coming off slower this year than before. None of my summer clothes fit! But it sure is motivating me to bike more.

                      1. re: moh

                        Do as i have done...i found a nice brunch place at the top of a mountain. Ride up, stuff self, no hurl on the way back down. True, better not drink much.

                        Honestly, don't see much wrong w/ the economy other than oil cost related. Of course, that's huge.... And as far as food prices go, once I started shopping at Whole Foods when they opened here two years ago, my food costs have been so shocking that I haven't really noticed the recent surge that the media talks about.

                        1. re: moh

                          Good idea, moh. However, in a town that doesn't accomodate bikers (in addition to my not being a biker) and is furiously strict on parking rules, it's impossible to eat out at restaurants that charge for parking.

                          That eliminates a large percentage of places, but from the reviews, I'm not missing much.

                          Happily, there are lots of places in the other direction of town that, although they too necessitate driving, offer free parking.

                          You can't ask for more than that and I'm happy to give them my patronage.

                      2. We're trying to dine cheaper/smarter. What that means is Pho more regularly, using the entertainment card and limiting booze purchases when dining out. Cutting back makes the times when we do go out feel more special anyway.

                        1. Rarely go out for dinner these days; tend to do lunch instead. I find the lunch deals a much better value - the portions are just a little bit smaller than dinner, and the price is usually 1/2 to 1/3 that of dinner.

                          Thursdays, the local community paper is stuffed full of grocery flyers. I pull them all out, and scour them for non-perishables for the pantry, or things I can freeze. For example, this week, one store had boneless pork loins for $0.97/lb. I bought a five pound one, sliced it into 1" thick steaks, marinated a couple and froze the rest. I do the same with chicken legs when they're on at $0.59/lb. Works great - by packaging them in two's, it's easy to defrost a small amount for dinner, and I'm not breaking the bank.

                          Produce is a different matter; I usually shop 2-3 times a week for lettuce, tomatoes, cukes, avocados, and so on. I've tried buying larger quantities but they always end up going bad before I can get to them, and then my price per serving goes way up.

                          But my personal barometer is restaurants serving breakfast. If you see a local spot that has been serving lunch and dinner only for years, and it is suddenly open for breakfast, I think that's a pretty good clue the local economy is in trouble.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: KevinB

                            I use the evert-fresh green bags and produce lasts about 3 times longer. I don't use them for tomatoes, just put those in a bowl on the counter. Mine (usually from Costco, last a week or two.

                          2. If anything, we're eating out more lately than we used to. We don't have the big cash draws that hurt most people: we dumped our car long ago and use Zipcar, public transit and good old-fashioned walking (Allstonian, having lived in Boston her entire life, has never even bothered to learn how to drive); we don't have kids; we live in a house that's completely paid for. As a self-employed freelance writer, I long ago learned how to jam econo even when the household cash flow is pretty good, so pinching pennies here and there when necessary is no big deal.

                            Basically, avoid buying processed foods as much as you can, buy in bulk on things that don't spoil or that you use a lot of (rice, coffee, etc.), take advantage of sales, eat seasonally and locally as much as you can, get y'self a freezer to stick in the basement so you can do things like buy 15 pounds of bacon at a shot (which we do about twice a year from Blood Farm in Groton), and if you've got the yard space, grow a little garden. Our herbs and lettuces are thriving this year, and I can't wait to plant my chiles.

                            If you do all that, then when you want to do something more extravagant for ingredients, or go out to a nice restaurant, you've got the cash to do that. I haven't tabulated our bills anytime recently, but I would be shocked if we're averaging more than $75 a week for groceries, and we eat pretty lavishly.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: BarmyFotheringayPhipps

                              Same here - our "eating out" rate has, happily, not slowed. A year ago (feeling a bit of pinch, then, I admit) we moved to an apartment with fixed utes in a walkable neighborhood with lots of fairly good cheap eats. We knew we'd be busy and want healthy take-out and quick dinner options. A year later this same model still works, while we watch prices at the pump and the grocery stores continue to rise . . . haven't seen much change in menu prices, so far, luckily.

                              We also do a lot of biking. Unfortunately, many of the "nicer" spots around here don't exactly welcome folks in grubby, sweaty biking mode, which sometimes leaves us with food that fits into junk food or fast food categories . . .

                              For the record, I think that CH's attempt to draw a line between gas and food discussion is interesting . . . and not really, um, sustainable?

                            2. I'm for manager for an independently owned cooking shop and our sales are terrific too. I have kind of chalked it up to the fact that more of our cuustomers are rather affluent.

                              DH and I have not really changed our eating style and being scratch home cooks and rarely dining out the economy has not had much impact on food for us.

                              1. let's see... gas prices are up, so groceries are more expensive. So I'm trying to get more things on sale, cutting coupons but at the same time trying to reduce how my prepared food I buy... a contradiction since most coupons are for the prepared/packaged food. also DH has been out of work for a few months, so we are eating out less and when we do making more economical choices. :( that means sushi 1-2 times/month instead of once a week or more.

                                3 Replies
                                1. re: jujuthomas

                                  re: sushi -

                                  At my local spot, their sashimi lunch special includes 15 - yes, fifteen - pieces of sashimi, six pieces of sushi, miso soup, green salad, green tea, and fresh fruit for dessert, and with tax and tip, it comes to less than $15 Cdn. The same meal at dinner time is nearly $25. No surprise that my lunch visits outnumber dinner about ten to one!

                                  1. re: KevinB

                                    Decreased Starbucks to once a week ($4.50 drinks) instead of daily (this right here makes up for more than the gas price increases)
                                    Decreased going out to eat if it's more than 30 minutes away to only special occassions not just because I want to try it out

                                    We try to do as much organic as we can...so grocery prices for us are still the same. It can cost more to eat healthy at home than it does to go out and have a chain restaurant meal.

                                    1. re: KevinB

                                      KevinB would you mind sharing the name of your local sushi spot, that sounds like a great lunch! Thanks

                                  2. I've been mainly focusing on small ethnic or locally owned casual restaurants and foregoing the pricier dinners out. I find myself spending more money on buying quality seafood to prepare at home. I also seem to be going out a lot more for lunch rather than dinner.
                                    We cook at home more often. $18 for a pound of fish all of a sudden seems like a bargain when you think of what you'd spend at a restaurant to get the same fish in maybe a 6 oz. portion! We've also been buying in large quantities at Costco and putting our freezer to good use, i.e. pork loin for $2.19/pound but you have to buy a large loin.

                                    Up until recently we'd go to the same restaurant two or three times a month with another couple. This involved both couples meeting there in separate cars and a total roundtrip mileage of 45 miles for each couple. We live very close to each other and recently we've started to take turns making dinner on Friday nights. We live 5 miles apart, save a lot of money on the food and alcohol, not to mention gas, and still have just as much fun!

                                    1. A good number of the restaurants in Chicagoland are offering some awesome specials as their customer counts are WAY down. Some of the deals are probably about as cheap as eating at home.

                                      The best deal so far as been a CASH CRUNCH LUNCH at Bennigans where they offer a 6 oz broiled chicken breast served over 6 oz of rice and about 8 oz broccoli and a non-alcoholic beverage for $4.99.

                                      We hit the place once a week for that special.

                                      1. The economy (as in gas prices) has changed HOW I buy food. I live about 1.5 miles from the grocery store, so I've been walking fairly often, which also means that I buy only what I can carry and/or put into my backpack (unless I have to buy something like ice, when I'll definitely drive). I also get a nickle credit (per bag) for bringing my own bag.

                                        I've always been relatively frugal (not miserly), and I frequently eat beans and grains, less often meat, and I haven't really cut down on the amount/type of food I buy. I just consider the transportation costs more often.

                                        Once every 4-8 weeks, I'll drive to my nearest coop, which is about 80 miles away. I keep a list of things to buy over that time, so I don't forget what it is I need. I'd like to go more often, but the gas cost is too high.

                                        1. "Has that been your experience?"

                                          No. This year we've been eating out more often (about every couple of weeks instead of every couple of months) and at higher end places.

                                          1. In the grocery store, I am paying much greater attention to how much things cost. If it's a specialty item I really like, I'll still buy it. If it's something I can do without, I skip it.

                                            I'm also infamous for making too much food when I cook, and it often goes to waste. I have started making smaller portions, and I'm glad to say most of the time it all gets eaten now.

                                            The biggest place I have cut back is on the wine I purchase. I really enjoy a nice red, but I have tried to limit myself to good wines in the $10 - $15 range.

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: JenBoes

                                              Yes, I have found that I actually look at the sale flyers now, plan my menus around the sales, eating more pasta and rice dishes and making my own pizza rather than ordering out.

                                              I have also been more open to local restaurants in town that I may have overlooked before rather than driving the 45 minutes that I might have before. And I can usually find some type of coupon or deal for the small local places in the town paper.

                                              As far as gadgets, I haven’t bought anything new in quite a while.

                                              And someone mentioned alcohol…SO and I enjoy Grey Goose on a regular basis. We have now turned to Sam Adams Summer Ale during the week and save the Goose for weekends.