Restaurant Economic Woes Reach Celeb Chefs, Europe, Asia

Knee-deep in the third quarter of 2009, and the restaurant industry continues to struggle. Out of USAToday, reports that many of the high-end, well-known restaurants across the country have cut their menu prices in an effort to keep consumers coming in. Chef Marcus Samuelsson of Aquavit and Riingo notes more “menu engineering” over the past two years to offer more lower-priced dishes. Chef Mario Batali has been adjusting his menus accordingly as well.

“At Del Posto, our fanciest restaurant, we have taken some of the luxury items off and dropped the fancy menu from $275 to $150,” Mario Batali said at the annual Food & Wine Classic this summer in Aspen, Colo. “There’s less caviar, foie gras and truffles, but they’re still there. They’re just not on nine courses. They’re on one course.”

Detecting a continuing decline in the economy, Chef Ming Tsai expanded his bar/lounge area in early 2008 to accommodate diners with tighter budgets, offering more of an Asian street-food menu with prices lower than many of Blue Ginger’s dishes. Chef Tom Colicchio has perhaps made the most of the economy, offering Damon: Frugal Friday at his Craft New York location where all dishes are under $10. Starting as a once-a-week option, diners can now enjoy discount prices six days a week.

“We were never a big proponent of luxurious ingredients,” says Colicchio, whose sides of asparagus at Craft New York sell for $11. “We do use some white truffles when they’re in season and occasionally have some caviar and foie gras, but other than that, we use basic ingredients. We just make sure we buy the best. We feel we shouldn’t cut back on that.”

Nation’s Restaurant News reports that the declining number of diners is affecting restaurant business throughout Europe and Asia as well. According to the article, during the first quarter of 2009, “foodservice traffic was down in France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Spain, the United Kingdom and the United States, and it was essentially flat in Canada.”

“It appears this economic downturn has affected consumers similarly, regardless of the country in which they live,” said Bob O’Brien, NPD’s senior vice president of global foodservice. “They are controlling their expenses by eating out less frequently, snacking less, cutting back on family visits and, when they do dine out, they are trading down to less expensive channels and carefully managing their check size.”

~Jennifer Heigl

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