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)?

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15 thoughts on “Stop eating out? Forget it.

  1. A ragtag group of about eight neighbors from the Westend Area walked over to the Handcar Regatta Race and had a great time. After it was over we started to walk back home and, since we already had a few beers, decided to stop at Starks for some apps and drinks. We arrived there just before 5 when the doors officially opened. We were dressed very “casually”. We weren’t sure how we would be greated by this “upscale” establishment.
    We asked the hostess if we could come in a little early and watch the football game on TV. Not a problem. The bartender was equally as gracious…so what if they weren’t open for another 10 minutes, he served us drinks all around and we were made to feel right at home. We asked if there was a dress code…he laughed (like, too late).
    The oysters were perfect, cold as could be with a nice mignet(spelling?) We all loved the roasted potato fondue. And the prawns were, how you say, to die for.
    We played around with the piano and were pretty boisterous but the staff seemed very okay with that.
    Because of the prices, it’s not some place most people could go to on a regular basis, but it is absolutely someplace I would return to and I feel very fortunate that it is an option that is almost literally in my back yard.

  2. If you’re living paycheck-to-paycheck and eat at Cyrus then sorry, you’re an utter moron. Get your priorities in order. It’s not a bad thing to treat yourself to something every now and then, but if you’re struggling with a mortgage, kids, transportation and other various expenses then it’s an irresponsible thing to do.
    And it’s also exactly what’s wrong with our country/economy these days. People spending money on things they can’t REALLY afford. Here’s an idea…If you don’t have the money, DON’T SPEND IT! lol
    Just my 2 cents. Take it or leave it

  3. Good article! This is an aspect of the bailout/economic turmoil that no one is talking about. And the reason – this chaos has not truly trickled down to the consumer yet. You wait – when the consumer stops spending in response to the economic hardships, that’s when we as a country are really going to feel the pain. I can see it every time I go out – every bartender, waitress, taxi driver, doorman, etc. confirms that numbers are down dramatically this year. And it’s only going to get worse. Yes, the cost of doing business has gone up for the hospitality industry overall, but they have to understand that the consumer needs to see the value in these economic times; otherwise, going out to nice restaurants is one of the first budget expenses that can be cut.

  4. I love that you have cavies…they are my faves! Just make sure the lettuce isn’t iceberg (which CSA lettuce probably isn’t). They can get sick.
    This is one of the best sites for cavy care and they have a great list of diet do’s and don’ts.

  5. In these times, I fully understand and appreciate a good meal at an affordable price, but believe me, when my wife and I celebrated our wedding anniversary, we headed straight for Cyrus for some much deserved pampering. With our growing family always at the fore-front of our paychecks, followed closely by our mortgage and transportation costs, this was not an easy task… but we felt that if we could get away from our usual grilled chicken and salad dinners for even one evening, the $350.00 bill was much worth it, even if this was the only time this year we cold accomplish such a task. I love reading the biteblog as it allows me to dream of the next place I might want to go, and thus make plans for. Kudos to you for having one of the most wonderful jobs I could think of. Keep up the good work, and don’t let those of us who can’t really get out as often as we would like get you down!

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