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Restaurants brace for lean times

If fewer people are dining out to begin with, servers will have fewer chances to scoop up money as meals end. Secondly, since gratuity is generally based on how much one spends, smaller bills will mean leaner tips.

Lynn also suspects that the percentage people tip will go down.

"It's logical," he said. "The closest data I have is that price sensitivity is related to tipping. The more price sensitive people are, the less they are going to tip."

Under New York State Law, the minimum wage for food service workers is $4.60 per hour; $2.55 less than the general minimum wage.

Rebecca Schroeptel, a manager at the Pump Station Restaurant in Albany, says that she has noticed changes in her clientele.

"People are tending to order cheaper dishes, have fewer drinks and tip worse," said Schroeptel.

The restaurant has been seeing more customers, however, making their sales on par with last year's.

The Pump Station has changed their menu recently, cutting out a lot of bread-based dishes due to the escalating price of flour. Schroeptel also said they are considering switching from using increasingly expensive Styrofoam containers, whose production requires petroleum.

The consensus among local eateries is that people will still be eating out, and they'll want a more unique experience than that afforded by chain restaurants.

"I don't think what we're reading in the newspapers is affecting us here in the northeast area," said Michael Bauer, owner of Bloomers Bistro in Malta. He says that while the cost of food and fuel has gone up, he hasn't raised prices and is still seeing plenty of customers.

"People still do look to go out to dinner as a form of entertainment," said Bauer. "Instead of taking a vacation, they'll be going out to eat."

Kalleigh said she's seeing a lot more repeat customers these days. "People are willing to take the drive locally," she said. "I'm not seeing as many people coming off the Northway, where I have signs up. That business is almost obsolete."

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