If there was one truly happy player in the harried, two-income, over-scheduled family of popular lore, it was the restaurant industry. With extra income and no time to cook, families ate their lunches and dinners out in huge numbers.

But the thrust of women into the workplace has leveled off over the last decade, according to labor statistics. And restaurants aren't feeling the love. According to a piece in the Wall Street Journal, the number of people dining out has gone down.

Last year, 207 restaurant meals were purchased per person, down from a peak of 211 in 2001, according to the NPD Group, a research firm that studies, among other things, how Americans eat. Meanwhile, Americans prepared 861 meals at home in 2007, compared with 817 in 2002, according to the group.

Why? The economy? High gasoline costs? Foodie culture? Probably all of the above. Research targets the moms, though. When Mom stays home, they say, there is less money in the family coffers to squander on food out, and more inclination to save money by cooking at home.

With our economic future looking pretty scary these days, restaurant chains should expect this trend to continue. But the Food Network can breathe easy. Somebody has to teach us how to cook.


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