If you’re buying…

The restaurant business is down all across the country. “Extreme solicitousness tinged with outright desperation” is how Frank Bruni described the mood at many of New York City’s top restaurants right now. So how are things going in DC? Amanda McClements at Metrocurean decided to take an unscientific poll at OpenTable. Here’s what came of her attempts to snag prime time Saturday night reservations at some of her favorite restaurants two days in advance:

• Blue Duck Tavern: booked
• Central: booked
• CityZen: booked
• Marvin: booked
• Proof: booked
• Citronelle: booked
• The Source: booked
• Rasika: 6:15 p.m.
• Bourbon Steak: 6 or 9:15 p.m.
• Corduroy: 5:30 or 9 p.m.
• Sei: 6:30 or 9 p.m.
• Westend: 6 or 9 p.m.

It must be nice to have an economy built on spending other people’s money (politicians, government employees) or spending your own to get even more taken away from someone else (lobbyists).

My friend Radley Balko wrote about Washington’s worrying wealth boom for FOX earlier this year.


5 thoughts on “If you’re buying…”

  1. Restaurant availability is a good economic indicator. I am in San Francisco and had been waiting to try a few places but never wanted to face the waits — Aqua and Farina — I got both of them calling a couple hours before, table for 4, one on a Saturday. I have walked into Delfina, too, which used to never have a table.

    If I were one of these restaurants, though, I would be more concerned about how it feels lately to spend that much money on a meal. There is a lot of overlap between places with easy money industries and fine dining, at least in the US — SF venture capital and various tech and real estate bubbles, Hollywood entertainment and RE, New York financial and RE. All the places with cushy and extravagantly remunerative jobs. Now that all that is gone it just feels weird to spend $100+/head on stuff that is not really that much better than a good pot roast with pasta and a nice bottle of wine. This has happened every time I have spent much money eating out lately, I don’t enjoy it as much.

    Although it looks like there is still plenty of ill-gotten money to burn in DC.

  2. Yes, we’re seeing the same problem here in Portland. Lots of places running “recession specials” to get people in the door. And the place where I work, which is extravagant by Portland standards, is seating fewer than before because of the new spending attitude.

  3. EXCUSE ME? Perhaps I’m misunderstanding, but are you saying that a government employee’s salary is “othere people’s money”? Because I earned that money!

    Or are you talking about people traveling on expense accounts? If that’s the case, what you’re saying makes more sense. But most government employees in D.C. live in D.C., so when they go out they wouldn’t be spending money from government travel accounts. So I’m still not sure what you’re getting at.

  4. Yep, that’s exactly what I’m saying. Government employees’ paychecks are funded by force from taxpayers (or by deficits that must be paid eventually). Unlike private businesses, the government doesn’t have to persuade its “customers” to willingly part with their money to fund its projects and payroll except by the blunt instrument of elections. Government employees are protected from economic shocks by the fact that their employer can effectively take or make as much money as it wants.

    Some government jobs are legitimate. Others are a waste of taxpayers’ resources. Given my politics, you know I think there are many of the latter keeping DC’s economy afloat. (This includes lobbyists, who are privately funded but often with the goal of getting government handouts for their clients.)

    I get the sense that you took that personally. You shouldn’t. Obviously some government jobs are legitimate. But I do think it’s fair to ask government employees to be cognizant of the fact that their income is taken by force from other citizens. If they don’t think their job is legitimate and productive, they should consider whether they can perform it in good conscience.

  5. I’m actually of the impression that it’s far less government employees who routinely populate the upscale restaurants here, and far more frequently the non-profits executives and lobbyists. Because while government employees are funded by the taxpayers, they’re spending their own paycheck when they go out to dinner. Non-profit executives and lobbyists far more frequently get to spend their organization’s funds in meals (that get characterized as in the interest of the organization/lobby), and aren’t forced to spend their own take-home pay.

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