Restaurants an affordable luxury

Kevin Yarr

by Kevin Yarr, CBCNews.ca

Last November, as it was becoming clear that Canada — along with the rest of the world — was slipping into the deepest recession in a generation, Canadians did an unexpected thing.

We went out to eat.

Or perhaps we went out for drinks, since the recent numbers from Statistics Canada combine food and beverage service establishments. Otherwise the report was pretty clear: sales up 6.7 per cent over November of 2007. Nowhere was this more pronounced than in my home province of Prince Edward Island, where sales jumped 16.8 per cent.

An informal survey of Island restaurants conducted by CBC News suggests the trend continued into January.

If this is a surprise to you you're not alone. The Canadian Restaurant and Foodservices Association had forecast weak business in 2008, precisely because "continued economic weakness will result in a moderation in disposable income and employment growth." It made that forecast in December 2007, when no one could guess just how weak the economy would get.

But I can't help but wonder if the CRFA is simply on the wrong track. In October 2007, the association reported weak growth "despite rising incomes and the lowest unemployment rate in 33 years."

So what's going on here? Perhaps a statistical oddity: it's not safe to draw any real conclusions from two sets of numbers.

It is tempting, however, to think that people want a little luxury in their lives. If you've already put off the new car, the vacation down south or the big-screen TV, maybe justifying a night out or a quick lunch with friends is a little easier.

Will you eat out more often this year than you did last year?