Restaurants brace for lean times

If there's one business that's feeling the crunch of the tight times we now inhabit, it just might be the restaurant industry. With food prices rising, shipping costs soaring and consumer behavior becoming more cautious, it seems that those enterprises that rely on all three to turn a profit would be in trouble.

While to declare the restaurant industry on the verge of collapse is reactionary, it has definitely seen decline. According to the Restaurant Performance Index a monthly report compiled by the National Restaurant Association the industry as a whole actually had a slight improvement in April, the most recent month in which figures are available. It was only a 0.4 percent gain from March, however, when the index reached a record low.

Restaurant owners have also reported negative same-store sales for the fifth time in six months, and cited the economy and food prices as their top concerns.

The point is that operating an eatery can be a dodgy business, at least on a national scale.

However, some local restaurant owners are resting easy despite the slowdown.

Desiree Kalleigh, who has owned and operated Good Times Restaurant in Ballston Lake for 20 years, says that while there has been a change in consumer behavior, business owners must simply learn to adapt.

"I change my menu from day to night sometimes if I find the menu isn't what they're looking for," said Kalleigh. "I change constantly."

One of those changes is the reintroduction of pizza to Good Times, which the restaurant hasn't seen in 20 years.

"It helps keep their bill reasonable," said Kalleigh.

Desire for a smaller bill is a consumer trend not limited to any one area. In the service industry, however, frugal meals could have a direct impact an entire occupation: servers.

Michael Lynn is a professor of Marketing and Tourism at Cornell University and an expert on tipping. There are currently no academic studies investigating the impact of the economic climate on tipping. "Nevertheless," said Lynn, "you would expect that tip income is going to go down in three ways."

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