These days, people regularly ask us -- every day, really -- whether the restaurant industry is likely to be blown away by the current economic storms. The short answer is "no."
That's not to say, of course, that these aren't hard times for many restaurants. People are eating at less expensive places and cutting back on the extras -- that $100 bottle of wine is a thing of the past. And those extravagant parties given by large banks? Verboten.
So why do we predict continuing growth in the industry? Because the demographics that produced a long-term restaurant revolution and shaped today's dining-out habits haven't changed.
Layoffs notwithstanding, two-career couples are still the norm, and neither partner has the time to regularly shop, cook, and clean up afterwards (not to mention that restaurant chefs mostly cook better, too). And the explosion in ethnic restaurants and casual neighborhood places means that dining out can often be as cheap as eating at home. In fact, long-term inflation in restaurant prices is less than half of the Consumer Price Index, or CPI.
On the business front, extravagant parties may still be on hold, but companies are still subsidizing plenty of restaurant meals -- whether for purposes of wooing clients or fueling staffers who work long hours. The fact that tax laws favor eating out doesn't hurt, either.
And finally, dining out has become a part of our cultural fabric, with the Internet, TV shows, films, magazines, and blogs all fueling consumer interest. Chefs are the new media stars, and restaurants are their arena.
The economy may cause you to put off buying a new car or take a fancy holiday trip, but let's get real. We always have to eat.