Diners eating at Tavern on the Green in New York City shortly before it closedChalk up another casualty to the recession: Mom-and-pop restaurants, where you're more likely to know your server, and possibly the owner, by name.

The recession appears to be pushing more people into their own kitchens to cook instead of dining out, according to The NPD Group . But the perception of a restaurant meal being expensive may be just that -- prices for food away from home remained flat in July, according to the Consumer Price Index, and restaurant menu prices have risen modestly this year.
Nearly all of the restaurants that closed were independently owned. Chain restaurants were better able to weather the recession. A discretionary expense, eating out is often one of the first cuts made when money gets tight.

California, where high unemployment and the housing crisis affected many, accounted for nearly a third of the nationwide drop in restaurants. Nationwide, the number of restaurants dropped in 2010 for the first time in more than a decade, according to NPD, falling 5,202 to 579,416. Most of the state's decline was in Southern California, with full-service restaurants with waiters being hit the hardest.

The good news for consumers who still go out to eat is that July marked the eighth consecutive month in which menu prices remained flat or rose 0.1%, according to the National Restaurant Association. And for diners who can get to London, restaurant prices are a better deal, relatively speaking, with restaurant prices increasing at the slowest rate in a decade. There's a good reason to dine out nightly -- on vacation in London.

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