And if you were to gauge the economy this way I think one might think the recession is mostly over, or less than reported. But there are some counter-intuitive things going on here:
- Fewer Seatings - Restaurants are reporting fewer turns per table per evening, meaning they might be getting only a single round of eaters instead of two, or even higher. And that one seating happens at "prime time", making the place look crowded as usual.
- More Munchies, Less Dining - A lot of those people in the bar are having a drink and appetizers where before they would stay for a full course. Revenue per patron is actually lower even if the number of patrons in the place looks the same.
- Fewer Weeknights - Even with less money to burn people are still going to go out once in a while, have dates, etc., especially towards the weekends. What you are not going to see is the "additional" eating out on other random nights out for the week for the hell of it. During my business dinners recently I find that things are pretty empty on Monday nights.
Update: Restaurants Have 22nd Month of Decline