I get weepy whenever I think that the famed Tavern on the Green in New York's Central Park will be serving its last mediocre meal on New Year's Eve. Quality of food and service aside, going to "the Green" is a cherished childhood memory for me. My favorite aunt from Arizona made her annual trek to New Jersey around the holidays and took me -- her special niece -- each year to the holiday show at Radio City Music Hall followed by lunch at the magical Tavern on the Green. I remember the snow on the ground, the little twinkly white lights in the trees, the horse-drawn carriages lined up waiting their turn to take little girls and their aunts on rides fit for a princess through the park.
So with this scene playing in my mind's background, my tears dried up when I saw this new study: The restaurant industry is apparently still in the doldrums, according to a research study by the NPD Group. Well, duh! Slap my forehead! They are actually still paying people good money to come up with this stuff? Restaurants have enough money to spend on a study that they think will give them some clues why business is tanking? With the greatest respect for Bill Clinton for this one: It's the economy, stupid!
Of course the restaurant industry is hurting. Ten percent of the U.S. is unemployed, more than a million people lost their homes in foreclosures in 2008 alone, and 6 million say they aren't even considering buying shoes for their kids until 2012. OK, I made that last up, but you get the point. Eating out is a luxury and along with other luxuries, for the most part, people have opted to forgo them for the time being.
I have a new policy. I go where my kids eat for free. Islands burger chain feeds the anklebiters for free on Tuesdays with a full-paying adult meal. A local Los Angeles small chain called Maria's Italian Kitchen does the same on Wednesdays.
Restaurants -- big ones, small ones, long-established ones and new ones -- have folded in every city in the country. And nobody should have to pay anyone to tell them that.
What I don't fully comprehend is the news that Jonathan Gold, Pulitizer-Prize winning writer for Los Angeles Weekly, shared in an OpEd in this week's Los Angeles Times: There have been more high-end restaurants that opened in the last year or so in Los Angeles than in the previous five years. Food, he said, has become the rallying point of the youth culture -- much the way music defined the culture of the '60s and greed the culture of the '90s.
So perhaps there is something for restaurants to research after all: What can you cook for people who live with their parents that mom doesn't make better?
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