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Study: Consumers dining out even less

FARMINGTON HILLS Mich. The recession is forcing consumers to cut back even more on dining out, particularly at higher-end restaurants, according to a new survey.

The study by market research firm Morpace Inc. found that 48 percent of U.S. consumers are eating out less often now than they did about six months ago, when the economy began its tailspin.

“By last September, more than one-third of consumers had reduced restaurant dining -- but now it's almost half the population,” said Kirsten Denyes, vice president of retail services at Morpace.

The Morpace Omnibus survey was conducted Jan. 23-27 and involved 1,010 consumers selected from an Internet panel of adults. The participants were asked about various restaurant categories and if they were eating at each type more, less or about the same amount compared to six months ago.

“All restaurant categories share the pain," Denyes said, "but higher priced restaurants may be hurt more.

“About half the patrons of upscale restaurants like Morton's and Ruth's Chris, and midscale venues like P.F. Chang's and California Pizza Kitchen, are dining there less now than six months ago,” she said. “The pullback is slightly less severe at fast-casual restaurants such as Panera Bread, Pizza Hut and Qdoba, and at casual restaurants like Applebee's, Olive Garden and Chili's.”

Fast-food chains, such as McDonald's, KFC and Taco Bell, are faring best, the study indicated, as consumers appear to be trading down to lower-priced restaurants. However, Denyes said one-third of customers have even cut back on their fast-food visits.

Contact Ron Ruggless at [email protected].

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