Economy hits restaurant industry hard

COSTA MESA, Calif. The economy is hard on everybody. Not to say that every restaurant is hit hard by the tough economic times, certainly many of them have learned to adapt better than others, but anybody who has any contact with a restaurant is having some troubles, and that's anyone from a customer to the owner, from the chef to the server.

It's lunchtime at Antonello's near South Coast Plaza in Orange County. While there are patrons enjoying the food and service at the 30-year-old restaurant, there are plenty of empty tables too.

"Right now, it seems with so much uncertainty in the air, it's affecting a lot of people," said restaurant manager Thad Foret. "And so that's affecting us at the same time."

No doubt the restaurant business is suffering in this economy. First off, customers are changing their plans.

"Really kind of cutting back as far as the number of times we go out, but when we go out, we want the most bang for our buck," said restaurant patron Jeff Frum.

To make sure the customer still gets bang for their buck, restaurants all over are making changes, from the menu to the kitchen.

"A year ago, a year and a half ago, we're selling lobsters ... and today, we're selling a lot of lasagna," said executive chef Franco Barone.

But when you sell lasagna instead of lobster, the bills are lower and so are the tips.

"From 50 to 60 percent down," said server Alfredo Diaz. "That's a lot of money."

So the only way to fire up this business in this unusually tight economy is to adapt.

"Right now it's actually a big challenge. I love challenges. And so right now, you don't want to make a profit, you just want to make sure that you stay afloat," said restaurant owner Alfredo Cajnolo.

Alfredo Diaz said the way he's adapting is he's going out to eat much less often, so it's a vicious cycle.

Antonello's, which has been in business for more than 30 years, is expected to survive -- they have quality food and service, and they're bringing their prices down just a bit.


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