Times tough, doggie bag index shows
CHICAGO The economy is going to the doggie bags.
In an economic indicator that Alan Greenspan might do well to consider, restaurants are reporting an increase in doggie-bag requests over the past year or two. They say it shows that their customers are feeling the bite from the unfriendly economy.
"People who wouldn't have thought about it a year ago will say, `You know what, I'm going to take that with me,' " says Izzy Kharasch, a Chicago-based restaurant industry consultant. "They now will take home the smallest of portions."
The upswing was cited in an industry trends report this month by the National Restaurant Association, which said one in five dinner customers now asks to take uneaten food home. Twenty percent of the 450 restaurants the trade group surveyed said their customers were requesting more doggie bags than two years ago.
"People used to be too embarrassed to ask for doggie bags. Not any more. They don't want to waste anything," he says.
Who or what let the doggie bags out? Restaurateurs say it is generally the economy.
"They won't say it's because of money. They'll say, 'This is really good can you wrap it up?"' says Elliot Fread, owner of Bimmy's in New York. "But I know it's due to monetary reasons."
Some diners just stay home.
The average number of U.S. restaurant meals per person per year is down for the first time since 1990, according to the Port Washington, N.Y.-based NPD Group, which conducts industry research. The number was 137 meals purchased per capita over the 12-month period ended in February, down 2.8 percent from 141 the previous year.
Still, the NPD data show the average American still eats out 15 times more a year than a decade ago.