Explaining why family restaurants are in decline.
I’ve got a friend who owns a family style restaurant offering basic comfort food. It’s not cheap, nor is it expensive either; just a family-run restaurant offering some home cooking. I’m sure you know of such a restaurant in your neighborhood.
Periodically, I help my friend update his menu. In the course of doing this I’ve asked him why he no longer offers certain items on his menu; things like lamb shanks, beef stroganoff, beef tips on noodles, Chicken a la King, Salisbury Steak, stuffed peppers, Sausage and peppers, pot roast, casseroles and the like. These were items I remember well from my youth but are disappearing from menus across the country. The only rationale my friend could offer was that people’s tastes were changing, and such items were more identified with the older generation than the new. The younger people seem to relate more to burgers, chicken tenders and pizza; items normally associated with fast food franchises as opposed to anything else. Consequently, the idea of a home cooked meal is becoming more of a nebulous concept to them.
Bread is another commodity changing as well. Instead of white, rye, and whole wheat, people now want shibata, muffala, and panini. I remember a time when sourdough was considered the epitome of exotic bread, now it is generally regarded as nothing special. The new breads are nice, but somehow the idea of a PB&J on panini doesn’t sound right.
Our cuts of beef and chicken haven’t really changed, but fish has. At one time, your only choices were cod, haddock, swordfish, flounder, and maybe some tuna (in a can). Now we ask for tilapia, grouper, mahi-mahi, ahi tuna, and orange roughy. As an aside, years ago grouper was considered a “garbage fish” fisherman routinely discarded, but somehow we developed a taste for it.
Soft drinks have also changed as well. Whereas we used to live on colas, lemon/lime drinks, root beer, ginger ale, ice tea, fruit juices, and Kool-Aid, now we have power/sports drinks in a variety of colors and tastes to hydrate us, and others loaded with caffeine and sugar to shock our system. Orange juice was orange juice. Period. Now we have varieties with pulp, without pulp, with added vitamins, lower acid, and of course the blends with other fruit juices. Ice tea is no different; now we have a wide variety of flavors to suit different tastes. Coffee has also changed, instead of a basic black cup of coffee in the morning, we now add all kinds of ingredients to make it look like a hot fudge sundae or some other dessert.
Speaking of desserts, cakes and pies are still around, but are a little harder to find. Then of course there are items like tapioca pudding, rice pudding, and other flavored puddings, most of which the kids turn their noses up when they are served. Ice cream is still a favorite, but we’ve come a long way since basic vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry. The competition in the ice cream world is fierce and consequently many new varieties have been introduced with strange names (and higher prices). I have to admit though, I am a sucker forGraeter’s Black Raspberry Chip or their Pumpkin Pie which comes out around October.
For breakfast there was oatmeal, Farina, Maypo, Cream of Weat, Malt-O-Meal, Pancakes, Waffles, and, of course, bacon and eggs. These have all been replaced by such things as Pop Tarts, Granola Bars, breakfast drinks, and other instant snacks. Heck, basic cereals are even struggling as people are rushing out the door in the morning.
I’m not suggesting our tastes are any better or worse today than yesteryear; I’m just noting the change. However, I wonder how much of this push to multiple varieties and instant meals is a result of our changing tastes as opposed to creating a higher profit margin for the vendors; I suspect the latter. More than anything, I believe our tastes change because of vendor competition and the need to make a buck. No matter how you slice it though, there is nothing better than “mom’s home cooking.” The only problem though is that a lot of people today think baking and cooking are two towns in China.
Keep the Faith!