Boomer-age diners at Dixie Crossroads restaurant in Titusville include, at left, Joe Cusano, 50, and Karen Bush, 51, At right, is Paula, and Bob Bush, both 59. The server is Jan Brannen.
Melbourne, FL (Florida Today) -- Johanna Karas took a look at her budget and decided that between the
hassle of shopping for groceries and cooking for one, she might as well
So whether she's dining solo or
with friends, the 74-year-old widow does just that, taking meals at
local restaurants three or four times a week.
Melbourne woman has a lot of company at tables nationwide. For the
first time in the United States, people older than 49 are eating out
more than younger diners, according to a study released this year by the
NPD Research Group, a market research company.
it up, at least in part, as one more recession-based trend. Industry
experts say unemployment has hit younger people hard: Younger adults are
more than twice as likely as those 55 and older to be unemployed,
according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
that may have something to do with the 12 percent dip since 2008 in the
number of nights they're dining out a year. In contrast, the older baby
boomers and "mature traditionalists," the generation ahead of the
boomers, upped their restaurant visits by about 6 percent, the NPD study
I'm worth it," said Karas, a Walmart cashier who ate at Grills in
Melbourne on a recent day off. "Treating myself is a nice thing to do.
And I'll take something home if I don't finish it and have it the next
These culinary news tidbits don't surprise Dixie Crossroads manager Clay Townsend.
the famed Titusville restaurant isn't back to 2008 numbers, "sales are
going back up, probably about 5 percent for this year," for the first
time since the recession started, Townsend said.
And older customers are an important part of the Dixie Crossroads clientele, he said.
"They're more established income-wise, with more disposable income," he said.
tend to cherish what a special moment it can be, eating out in a
restaurant with family and friends - enjoying that situation and moment
in time without crippling their budget."
where the median age was 45.5 in 2010, has 1,077 full-service
restaurants, according to the state's Department of Business and
And potential customers teem in an area that's aging rapidly. More
than 42 percent of Space Coast residents are older than 50, the expected
median age here by 2020.
Restaurant Association says boomers and older diners make excellent
regulars. And restaurants, in turn, are responding with comfortable
seating. Large-type menus and good lighting. Health-conscious offerings.
Choices that embrace tastes from around the globe but down-home
"comfort food," too.
Karas frequents Carrabba's, Pane E Vino, and Duffy's Sports Grill.
the time you factor in gas and food cost and time spent, she said, it
can be just as economical - and more fun - for an older person to eschew
"We don't cause problems," she said, laughing. "And we can be good tippers."
and Hugh McGavern, baby boomers from Melbourne, eat out at least twice a
week. They take advantage of specials and coupons at places including
Boston Market, Cheddar's and Red Lobster.
two spent their 26th wedding anniversary at another favorite, Dixie
Crossroads, though it's an hour's drive from their house.
"From an economic standpoint, it can be inexpensive to eat out," said Elaine McGavern.
not really frivolous and we don't drink, so there's no alcohol. And I'm
not really a big eater. My husband winds up taking at least half of
mine home and he'll have that for lunch the next day."
At Pineda Crossing Bar & Grill in Melbourne, older customers have been a staple since the eatery opened in 1996.
think since the recession hit, what the study shows is true," said
Cathy Popp, who owns the restaurant with her husband, Bob. "Younger
people who used to go out and start partying by eating dinner and going
on somewhere else aren't doing that like they did."
And while Popp's husband was at first resistant to the early-bird specials so loved by much-older diners, they're offered now.
restaurant "would be lost without Indian River Colony Club," home to
many Air Force retirees, said Popp, adding that she's gotten so close to
older customers, it's like losing family when one dies.
we first opened, a lady in that age range discovered us and
single-handedly brought us the entire Suntree Country Club," Popp said.
"And then the people from Indian River Colony Club all adopted me. ...
We have really strong regular customers."
It's the same at Dixie Crossroads, Townsend said.
of our servers have very deep relationships with our guests," he said.
"A lot of regulars who come in, we know all about them, their family and
their history, and they value that recognition."
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