Discount Dining

The past couple of years have been tough on young adults. The real wages of young college graduates have fallen since 2000 and the real cost of their student loan debt burdens has gone up. That’s an ominous combination. Well, the New York Times recently ran a fascinating story on the revival in Florida of the early bird special. But cheap meals are less for retired folks on a fixed income and more for young families and couples.

Part of it is purely business — promotions work when people have less money to spend — but restaurant owners, researchers and patrons say it also reflects a changing mood. It is a sign, they say, of shifting priorities, as Americans respond to tighter budgets with a demand for value and a willingness to alter their habits to enjoy a little fun.

Many restaurant owners, on Florida’s east and west coasts, now report seeing behavioral changes that remind them of the generation that survived the Depression. In addition to coming in early for specials, they said, more customers have been using coupons, sitting down only after studying the menu and wasting less food.

In my neighborhood pubs and coffee shops have improved the quality of their food and kept prices down. The value strategy seems to be working. Places are crowded.