Yesterday, Nation’s Restaurant News reported that in the beginning of the month, restaurants in its stock index (mostly fast-food and fast-casual chains) took a 5.64 percent dive (a steeper fall than the Dow Jones and S&P; indexes). Now more grim news from the annual Cowen & Co. consumer investment conference, where, among other restaurateurs, Steven Hanson of BR Guest shared his outlook on 2009: “I think the consumer will just shut down, and even when they do go out, they will be thinking differently about how they spend their money. 2009 will be a very, very tough year.” The solution, Hanson thinks, is to cater to diners: “Today you need volume; you need to hug the customer.” So what, exactly does that mean?
The Wall Street Journal points out what we already know — that with a 1 percent drop in sales expected this year, restaurants and their suppliers will have to cater to a new appetite for comfort-food items that, lucky for them, are often cheaper to prepare. Hamburgerization, indeed. Judging by a decline in sales at Johnny Utah’s, in this economy even flautas and fajitas are dauntingly fancy! Adding lunch and brunch specials is also a good coping mechanism, to a certain extent. Says Danny Meyer, “You don’t want to turn your white tablecloths into paper mats to save cost, because that changes the sense people have of who you are as a restaurant.”