Restaurants rebounding one table at a time

Restaurateurs in the Lynn area and around the nation are beginning to see a slight up tick in business, and are cautiously optimistic the worst of the recession may be over.”There’s no question business is improving,” said Bob Gaudet, owner of the Porthole Pub in Lynn, now in its 44th year of business. “This is the third recession I’ve been through and it’s been by far worse than anything I’ve seen.”Gaudet said he’s fortunate that he has not had to lay off any of his staff of 100 workers, mostly part-time, because even through the recession, Porthole’s extensive menu with reasonable prices has attracted a loyal customer base.”We’ll have two or three days we’re back on the horse, but there are still those days where the horse is out of the barn,” Gaudet says. The increase in business, he said, is encouraging, but adds it’s too soon to delcare the recession over.”I look at the number of foreclosures in the Item and it’s scary,” he said Paul Peterseil, owner of Red Rock Bistro in Swampscott, said not only has he not laid off staff, he’s looking to add quality wait staff.”Our visits are definitely up, but customers are still spending less,” Peterseil said. “So we’ve managed to get them in the door but not get as much money out of them.”Red Rock’s popular live entertainment Thursday through Saturday nights and its Sunday jazz brunch have been a steady draw, Peterseil says. “And our Dollar Nights on Monday, where you can sliders for a buck, oysters for a buck, corn dogs or double barbecue shrimp for a buck has been a huge hit.”While Red Rock’s menu is a step above pub fare, Peterseil said. “We’ve tweaked our menu throughout the recession. If you want a $28 entree we can give you that, but we can give you a burger and salad, too. We have an extenisve, mid-range menu. During the height of the economic downturn in 2008, Peterseil added a $10 “recession buster” entree to the menu, something he planned to have for only a year. “We’re in our 12th year now and we still have $10 specials.”Asked if he believes the recession is waning, Peterseil said, “I don’t think anybody can really know. I don’t think (business) will ever return to what it was before.”Meanwhile, The Cheesecake Factory Inc., which has a restaurant at the Northshore Mall in Peabody, said the important performance measure shot up in every area of the country during the first quarter – “even in California, which was a softer market for us through the recession,” Chairman and CEO David Overton told investors Thursday.The number of diners at Cheesecake’s restaurants nationwide rose 1.7 percent. And they ordered more desserts. The chain’s signature indulgences accounted for 15.2 percent of revenue, up from 14.7 percent the previous quarter.Starbucks also managed to snag an increase in tea and coffee customers – its first in 13 quarters.Mary Smith is among those who finda herself in restaurants more frequently.The 47-year-old from Tigard, Ore., rarely dined out when she was unemployed. But since she began work as a legal assistant in January, she treats herself to lunch out once a week.”I do it now for convenience,” she said.Early forecasts seem to show the first quarter’s momentum is trickling into April. “It seems like people are out just spending more money.” Jack Hartung, chief financial officer at Chipotle Mexican Grill – which has restaurants in Peabody and Saugus – said on a conference call last week.A further rebound might hinge on the recovery putting a dent in the nation’s 9.7 percent unemployment rate.Even the head of the world’s biggest fast food chain said it won’t be until the national jobless rate drops and Americans get back to work until a real recovery is evident.”I don’t believe that the spending levels are going to get back to pre-recession levels until people have some confidence that they’re going to have a place to go to work and can put food on the table at home or away from home,” McDonald’s CEO Jim Skinner told investors Wednesday.”Panera Bread Co. Chairm

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