Dining Out, Not on the Menu

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Americans love affair with eating out is on the decline. Increased competition and high gas prices are contributing to slumping sales across the country and right here at home.

Here's some food for thought, according to a recent report, the restaurant business nationwide is in the worst sales slump since 1991. Some restaurants in the twin cities are feeling the pinch.

"Now everybody has to scratch and fight and try to get their piece of the pie and it's certainly not getting any easier," said Tap Bentz, Restaurant Association.

Bentz says there are a few factors contributing to the lull.

"People just don't have the disposable income that they had probably six months ago, whether it's gas prices or just people going into a little more debt," he said.

With that it mind, it begs the question if the community can support all the new restaurants that have opened recently.

"Corporations, or bigger chains coming in, aren't just going to blindly put restaurants in that they don't think can survive," said Bentz. "I think restaurants that many tend to struggle, might be some of the smaller independent restaurants."

But some of the larger chains, namely El Chico, Rock Fish and Black Eyed Pea, haven't survived. Bentz says if they want to survive in this community, being a part of the community must be on the menu.

"We want to be a good community partner. For any restaurant anywhere to be successful, that's part of the recipe."

Bentz says he doesn't expect the numbers to stay down forever and he's optimistic they'll pick up soon.

"People are going to find a way. Whether it's because it's dual income family, or just a lot of people don't have the time or patience or the energy to sit down and cook a family meal," he said.

That, combined with the growing population in the twin cities, could mean restaurants here might not suffer as much as others around the country.