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Dining in general downhill due to economy?

Hey folks. I was just reading a bunch of threads and it made me wonder, have people experienced dining out in general going downhill due to the economy? What I mean is, do you see many restaurants cutting corners, buying less expensive products that do change the taste in a dish. I can say from my experiences lately dining out, even at some formerly favorite places of mine, I have noticed some of them really have gone downhill in quality. I know food costs are at an all time high, but it's unfortunately making me want to stay in for dinner more often than going out. Nothing annoys me more than spending money on something I can make at home for less money and better quality. I'd love to hear some thoughts. Also, which places ARE NOT cutting corners or who have not changed their quality during these tough times?

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  1. I haven't really seen it, though I do notice that so many restaurants I go to now are nearly empty during the height of the dinner hour. I'm sure there are indeed places that are cutting corners, though--I just haven't been to them yet.

    I was talking about this with someone who runs a regional tourism site earlier today, and he thinks that the chains, and generally, the restaurants that you have to drive to (near malls, shopping centers, etc.), are definitely being affected by the economy. He also thinks that many restaurants that are located in downtown areas of towns and small cities are actually doing a little better, mainly because the prices are more or less remaining low and people can walk (or do a really short drive) to them. Perhaps this is why places such as Applebee's, Macaroni Grill, and TGI Fridays are doing so poorly. I know a couple of people who went to the Macaroni Grill during the middle of the day a couple of weeks ago, and it was nearly empty. That never would have happened a few years ago.

    2 Replies
    1. re: hiddenboston

      the Macaroni Grill at The Loop in Methuen folded. not that i'll ever miss it.

      as i don't generally go to the larger chains i cannot speak to those but what i have noticed is that some of the smaller places that used to show indifference are now making it a point of making sure that folks are happy.

      i cannot cite specific examples but what i'm becoming aware of is that servers are taking the time to explain things where as in the past they'd drop the menus, get a drink order then return for the food order. they are now taking the time to explain items and solicit likes/dislikes then making recommendations. i'm not hearing the actual conversation as this could just be the servers trying to up-sell to better their tips. either way, it's a Good Thing.

      1. re: ScubaSteve

        Improved service could in part reflect decreased business - waitstaff covering fewer occupied tables would have more time to spend with/on their customers.

    2. Yeah, anyone who tells you the economy is fine doesn't know anyone in the restaurant business. There's clearly corner-cutting going on: smaller portions, substitutions of cheaper cuts of meat, everyday mushrooms in place of exotics, and so on. I've seen prices rise at some places: Pops capped its entrees at $20 when it opened, but has some $25 entrees now. I also see the empty-restaurant problem everywhere. I fully expect to see a string of closings in the coming year of places that were doing great a year ago. I see the least changes at the highest end: I think a lot of high-end places are trying to weather the downturn just by eating margin rather than risk alienating their wealthy regulars.

      1. Hi everyone. Please keep the discussion focused on restaurants in the Boston area. General discussion of the economy's impact on the industry will be off topic here. Thanks very much!

        3 Replies
        1. re: The Chowhound Team

          "keep the discussion focused on restaurants in the Boston area"

          i think it is completetely relavent... if not, suggest another board for this discussion. people are curious as to the downturn and its effect on restaurant quality in boston with specific examples noted.

          1. re: bowmore36

            In my recent visit to L'Espalier in their last week at the old location, I was surprised that there were only 3 or 4 other tables occupied in the 2 hours I was there, though I don't know what their normal lunch traffic is.

            This downturn efect will likely only get worse as our summer supply of NE locally grown food comes to an end and the transportation costs become a bigger factor in the winter months.

            1. re: bowmore36

              The Not About Food board is the best place to discuss the economy, how it affects people's dining choices and how restaurants are coping with the constraints imposed by the current economical climate. Those issues are facing diners and restaurants nationwide and the Not About Food board can host the discussion with wider input and no geographical restrictions.

              If you have specific examples of Boston restaurants and how the economy is affecting them in particular, it's fine to keep those discussions here.

          2. I have noticed what you say MC Slim JB, re: the higher end restaurants trying to stay on top of their game, but I have noticed other smaller or not as higher end places who are cutting corners or serving smaller portions yet charging the same prices. It's just making me wonder, which Boston restaurants have still been good while which ones other people have experienced are cutting the corners to the point where it's glaringly noticeable.

            1 Reply
            1. re: BackBayGirl

              have to say... dinner at the bar @ #9 the other night. tasting menu was outstanding. definitely no corners cut there. there were no small portions at all. i barely was able to finish the last couple of courses. and of course the quality was there as well.

            2. You can almost walk into most places on a Sat evening without a res. Think it's bad now, wait till home heating drains some wallets.

              6 Replies
              1. re: treb

                Which places?

                In Boston, I've found Saturday nights in many of the more popular restaurants to be invaded by the B&T crowd. I could see how the locals might be staying away on that night, in particular. I've given up on even bothering with a few restaurants on Saturdays.

                Locals can sustain a restaurant during a downturn, and it looks like they've been showing up at places like Coda, Franklin Cafe, Pops, Petit Robert South End, and Tremont 647 on weeknights - it seems Thursday in particular. Not sure about other areas of Boston.

                I've also noticed that some restaurants definitely have not attracted locals. DaVinci's comes to mind - I had to dodge the tumbleweed last time I walked by on a weekday evening. Not a mark against DaVinci - I'm not sure that great food is sufficient (or even necessary).

                1. re: WilliamTheFoodie

                  Bridge and tunnel. Those coming into the city from the suburbs.

                  And, we have been to Trattoria Toscana, L'Espalier, Hammersley's and the Asana and the M Lounge in the past two weeks and they have all been busy. However, last weekend was the Head of the Charles so it's always a good weekend for restaurants.

                2. re: treb

                  On Saturday evening ( Nov. 1 ) my wife and I found ourselves near Inman Square after doing some shopping, so we decided to pop in to Ole. one of our favorite places, for a quick dinner. The time was 6:55pm, we entered and asked if we could have a table. We were sternly told by the hostess, "you have to have a reservation!" That is literally all she said, along with handing us a card saying "next time, call first."

                  1. re: TheTrout

                    Really? Wow, that's pretty sad. So much for trying to win over customers during tough times like these. I assume you won't be going back there anytime soon?

                    1. re: hiddenboston

                      Let's just say, they've dropped a bit on our list of places to go. The thing that amazed us was the place was about half full and presuming that some of the tables were for reserved for 8pm, wouldn't you think a smart hostess would say
                      " can you eat and be gone in about an hour?" Our answer would have been yes, and that would seem like a win-win situation. But given how quickly we were shown the door, hanging around to try and negotiate a table seemed pointless.

                      1. re: TheTrout

                        Interesting- I had a similar situation at Ole when we walked in about a month ago with my mom. The hostess asked if we could eat in 90 mins, we said yes, and they expedited our orders to make sure we were in and out on time. Actually, the hostess even checked in with us during dinner to let us know one of the reservations from later was going to be 15 mins late so not to rush and that we could have the table for an extra 15 mins. I left thinking it was a very positive experience with being honest and making it a win-win situation. I'm sorry to hear that they didn't offer the same concesion for you.