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Layoffs Not on the Menu for Small Restaurants

New America Media, News Report, Anthony D. Advincula Posted: Dec 30, 2008

Editors note: While businesses of all kinds are feeling the pinch and resorting to layoffs, small restaurants, many of them ethnic, are trying to figure out creative ways to keep the diners coming without laying off the staff. Anthony D. Advincula is a New York-based editor for NAM.

NEW YORK The economy is tanking and restaurants are feeling the pinch. But while some high-end restaurants are letting staff go, some smaller ones are trying to figure out more creative ways to adjust to tightening wallets and hang on to customers.

Thai restaurantOn Bleecker Street, in the West Village, a Thai restaurant offers free appetizer and an $8 lunch to lure more customers. A bowl of rice, which used to be a side order, now also comes with the meal.

Down the block, on Bedford Street, a Chinese restaurant adds smaller plates to its menu, rather than just the regular dinner plates, to provide customers more affordable options. The serving is big enough for two.

On Hudson Street, a diner extends the daily lunch special hours, hoping to entice the customers that it has lost since the economic recession struck the country.

People still want to eat out, but they dont want to spend a hundred dollars on a meal anymore. Not in this economy, said Carolina Pereira, an Argentine waitress at the Bus Stop Caf.

If a restaurant wants to remain in business despite the crisis, Pereira said, it should be conscious of what people are willing to spend. I have friends who worked for high-priced restaurants, but now they are unemployed because these restaurants shut down.

Since the Wall Street meltdown, many restaurants and other retail shops in New York City have closed. Along the stretch of Hudson Street alone, for example, more than 10 restaurants and retail stores have closed since the third quarter of 2008.

Additionally, the U.S. Department of Labor reported last week that employers cut an additional 533,000 jobs in December, making the unemployment rate 6.7 percent the highest in 15 years.

Economists also predicted that consumer spending would fall at an annual rate of 2.5 percent to 3 percent in the current quarter, following a 3.8 percent drop in the third quarter, which was the worst in 28 years.

But at Szechuan Restaurant on Seventh Avenue and Bedford Street, a Chinese waitress who only introduced herself as Ada, said they havent been hit hard by the crisis.

Were not affected because people know that they can come to our restaurant for less than $10 a meal, she said serving a plate of shrimp and broccoli, which is $7.95 for the smaller plate and $11.95 for the usual dinner plate.

The restaurant, she added, has not laid off any workers. Since it opened barely a year ago, the number of customers in fact has increased.

I think the word that we are affordable has been spread out, so we have customers who come with their friends almost every night, she said. Were still pretty packed on Friday and Saturday nights.

George Kiramis, a waiter at Good Stuff Diner on 14th Street, also concurs that restaurants that offer reasonable prices are the ones that can weather this economic downturn. WaiterGeorge Kiramis

No matter what the situation is, people are not going to stop eating in restaurants. But, Im telling you, not many are looking for fancy stuff right now, Kiramis said, while pouring hot coffee into a customers cup one Sunday afternoon.

When asked whether the diner has already offered extra perks to customers, like other restaurants around the city, he said: Uh-uh. We have not done anything like that. Were doing just great.

Reducing the price, offering enticements or adjusting to a consumers market are some viable strategies for any business to survive, just like in past recessions.

During the economic depression in the 90s, I remember that used CDs were more appealing to people than the brand-new counterparts. Others sought second-hand clothes, said Berkeley Cooke, a long-time New York resident. As more people are feeling the need to save nowadays, restaurant owners are also finding means to assure their customers that every dollar is wisely spent in their food establishments.

Photographs by Anthony D. Advincula

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