• Restaurants a go-go

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For months, now, I’ve been sensing a disconnect between the news reports that tell me people are cutting back on dining and drinking out because of the bad economy and the daily sight of crowded parking lots and even lines at the front doors of many restaurants, restaurant/bars, wine/tapas places and the like.

Now, The Harris Poll has released the findings of a new study of 2,681 U.S. adults surveyed online between May 11 and 18 by Harris Interactive that explains what I’ve been observing.

It says that while majorities still are inclined to decrease spending on eating out and entertainment, the numbers are better than they had been two months ago.

I find this survey a comforting one. As a person who has had a lifelong affinity for the restaurant business — as bus boy, dishwasher, line cook, sous chef and restaurant critic — I have become increasingly annoyed at the “how to cut costs” lists disseminated in print and online. Inevitably, one of the suggestions is to stop going to restaurants. Nothing like telling the populace at large to, in effect, boycott an industry that is a huge employer in this country.

It’s one thing to tell people to order wisely — from both financial and nutritional standpoints. It is another to try creating a trend toward harming the cooks, waitstaff, cleaning people, launderers, food and drink vendors, truck drivers and myriad others who have a share in the world of dining-out.

In March, three-quarters of Americans said they were decreasing spending on eating out (74%) and entertainment (74%). Now, two-thirds say they are reducing eating out at restaurants (66%) and 64% say they have reduced spending on entertainment.

Americans are cutting back on their spending over the next six months. Specifically:

• Similar to last month, two-thirds of Americans (64%) say it is not likely they will take a vacation away from home lasting longer than a week while 36% say it is likely they will vacation away from home. In March, 35% of Americans said they would be likely to take a trip;

• Large purchases continue to suffer as more than three-quarters of Americans say it is not likely they will buy a new computer (79%), move to a different residence (81%), buy or lease a new car, truck or van (88%), purchase a house or condo (91%), start a new business (92%) or buy a boat or recreational vehicle (95%). These numbers are all very similar to March so people are still not ready to spend on the big-ticket items;

• One quarter of Americans (26%) say it is likely they will have more money to spend the way they want in the next six months which is up from 21% in March; and,

• People are slightly more likely to say that they are going to be saving or investing more money. Just over half of Americans (53%) say they are likely to save or invest more money while 47% are not likely to do so. In March, Americans were split on this as 50% said they were likely to save or invest and 50% said they were not likely to do so.

The pollsters note, “As people get ready for summer vacations, it seems as if the trips may be getting shorter and closer to home — more [damn, I hate this word] ‘daycations’ and [I hate this one even more] ‘staycations.’ But, even if summer vacations may be changing this year, there are small signs that things may be getting better, at least in terms of spending. More people are eating out and spending money on entertainment, something that the studios for the big summer blockbusters will be happy to hear, but the big ticket items are still not seeing any type of rebound. Those may take a little longer to see the slight recovery that the smaller expenses are seeing.”

Full data tables and methodology are available online.

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About Bill Dowd

Webmaster/social media coordinator for the Southern Rensselaer County NY Rotary Club.

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