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    Consumers Plan More Cuts in Restaurant Spending

    New study says diners expect to spend 20 percent less per meal in 2010.

    NEW YORK -- Despite signs that the recession may be ending, restaurant customers said they plan to spend about 20 percent less per meal in 2010 than they did this year, according to a new study cited by Nation's Restaurant News.

    The study by business consultant AlixPartners LLC surveyed 1,000 consumers who said they plan to spend an average of $11.49 per meal next year. In a similar survey performed nine months ago, respondents reported spending an average of $13.25 per meal.

    While spending is expected to decline, weekly restaurant visits are actually up. The study found that 63 percent of those polled had dined out at least weekly over the past 12 months, up from 52 percent in the March survey. Meanwhile, monthly visits to fine-dining restaurants dropped 36 percent, the survey found.

    "While food quality today remains top of mind for the consumer, the core driver for diners continues to be value, value, value," said Andy Eversbusch, a managing director at AlixPartners. "That determines how often people eat out, and where they eat out."

    Eversbusch also noted while industry relies heavily on discounting these days, it is unclear whether the strategy "will provide a sustained positive impact."

    Adam Werner, co-author of the AlixPartners study, said consumers have already "recalibrated their spending expectations based on the now-ubiquitous $5 sandwich and the $10 meal. Restaurants that aren't marching in the promotions parade are the ones that will be left behind," he said.

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