Stop eating out? Forget it.

broke.jpgBiteClubClub is feeling the pinch, as are many restaurant owners around the North Bay. You may have noticed that my coverage of new restaurants has all but fallen off the map — opening has become almost impossible. Even for longtime restauranteurs, getting credit is a laughable endeavor. I spent most of last month lamenting to myself about how bad things seem to be.

But stop eating out? Please. Check out some of my recent favorite cheap eats and weigh in on what you won’t live without (no matter how bad things get.) I just gotta rant on this one…

“..In these times of trying to keep up with mortage payments, foreclosures,depression,and keeping a job you hate just to make ends meet (let alone gas), your “BITE” makes people cringe. I mean 14.00+ for a hamburger- come on- get real. Also these chefs are in la-la land. Sell a simple burger without all the crap that people can afford. Sonoma County has by far gotten way past reality. Don’t review any more of these ” wonderful” places to please the palate. Instead explore places and talk to the owners what can be done to cure what has gone so wrong that people are willing to pay such high prices and really not what they’re getting. “
– Patty

I hear you. I recently had dinner with some friends and nearly choked when I got the $65 bill for my half. That’s just not a Friday night luxury I just can afford anymore

BiteClub’s favorite cheap(ish) eats and guilty pleasures (yes, I’m sorry some of them are chains, deal):

At home, we’ve joined a local CSA — forcing us to cook at home, experiment with new recipes and tolerate zero waste. Even the guinea pigs are in on the action, eating our green leftovers and over-the-hill lettuce.

We’re planning to have our own farm garden next year to help offset costs even further. Working in the newspaper industry during these trying times is a scary proposition and we’re preparing for whatever happens.

It’s not a one-way street though. Many chefs are also against the wall. Their costs are rising sharply due to gas increases, food price hikes, staff salaries and general overhead. Most are small business owners who’ve invested themselves to the hilt both financially and emotionally. I’ve seen and heard about the stress and tears they’re going through as economic times get tighter as well.

That’s not the whole story though. I’ve talked to restaurateurs seeing spikes in the number of people eating out. Reservations are down, walk-ins are up. Hey, the first thing I do when I get bad news is head for the chow: It’s a luxury that’s still within reach even when things are grim.

Though Ramen noodles are starting to look like a real bargain in our house, I think its unfair to begrudge people who want to eat a $14 hamburger or a $600 meal at Cyrus. Luxury eating is also a part of who we are in Wine Country. A large part of our economy in the North Bay is about high-brow tourism and people depend on these jobs. Top-end restaurants cater to big wallets — whether you’re just lucky, you’re on a special vacation or a business account. The reality is that there are still a whole lot of people who can afford expensive meals.

Keep in mind that there are many, many, many restaurants in Sonoma and Napa that cater to more modest budgets. I spend most of my time sussing those out because they’re where I actually eat. I do think its important to do a reality check at some higher end spots for folks who DO enjoy that luxury whether its once a year or once a week. 

What’s your take? Have you stopped eating out? What do you refuse to stop eating just because times are bad (mine is sushi)?