Table by table, restaurants gain ground



It took more than a year, but American diners are coming out of hiding, starting to splurge on everything from tea to tacos and tacking on some dessert.

The meals aren’t fancy — and business is far what it was before the recession sent the nation spiraling — but restaurateurs big and small say they’re breathing a tentative sigh of relief as tables fill up.

At Deleece, a restaurant on Chicago’s north side, crowds are bigger than they’ve been in months. It’s noisier, too.

“People are out and they’re spending a little more and maybe they’re buying that extra appetizer they didn’t before,” said Brandon Canfield, the restaurant’s chef.

In the depths of the recession, Deleece’s customers might order a glass of wine, a salad and an entree. Now, they’re more likely to get a bottle of wine, a hot appetizer and an entree. They’ll also split a dessert, which adds up to bigger bills and full tables.

The shift, which Jefferies restaurant analyst Jeff Farmer calls a “slow grind,” began in late January and is gaining steam.

“They’re not necessarily seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, but there’s a realization that things aren’t going to get any worse than they are right now,” Farmer said.

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