Whenever there’s a societal problem in the U.S. it’s popular to blame the baby boomers. We’re one big, easy target. Google “blame the baby boomers” and you’ll see more than 406,000 results. Now we’re being labeled as the major culprits in the decade-long dinner decline at American restaurants, according to a new study by the reputable market research firm NPD.
This is a big problem for bistros, cafes and trattorias in Colorado and across the nation because supper has always been their largest income source. We all tend to spend more in the evening than we do at breakfast, lunch and brunch.
While the Great Recession is acknowledged as a major culprit by NDP, the bulk of the blame seems directed at “mature adults.” My aging generation is dining out at night less than in the past in part because they’ve rediscovered the joy (and the cheapness) of cooking at home. What baby boomers giveth, baby boomers taketh away.
It wouldn’t be hard for us to eat out less than we had. We were the first generation that started dining out every day; in particular, Monday to Friday nights. Now the restaurant industry has its collective apron in a knot trying to figure out how to lure us.
As a boomer, allow me to explain how restaurateurs might regain some of our supper dollars.
1. Cut back the second-hand sound pollution. How important is it? Noise was the No. 2-ranked major irritation for diners recently surveyed by Zagat, edged out only by bad service and ahead of poor food. We listened to a lot of very loud music for too long. Many of us are getting a little deaf (See Pete Townshend’s hearing aids.) We won’t patronize otherwise fine eateries that are intentionally designed to be so “lively” we can’t have a conversation at the table without shouting.
2. We’re getting creaky, despite all the joint replacements, and, frankly, a bit wider. If your bistro has only narrow, un-cushioned chairs that don’t slide or roll, and tiny tables, we’ll be uncomfortable. Achy people do not stay for dessert or drinks…or come back. Some of us are going to be more comfortable at a table than a booth because the latter is harder to get out of.
3. Great food still matters to baby boomers, the most well-traveled and culinarily savvy generation in the history of the world, but good service matters just as much. Want to keep our business? Don’t call us “you guys.” Welcome us and use eye contact. If we’re regulars, remember our names. (This is especially useful if we’ve forgotten them.) Please do not make the place so frickin’ dark that we can’t read the menu—or provide reading glasses and LED penlights with every menu.
4. We were spendthrifts but now we have money worries, especially knowing that some of us will live to be 100. Many lost their retirement nest egg as the market tanked, and we’re going to keep working longer. Frugality rules. Offer us affordable options including prix fixe deals. (Do NOT call them “sunset dinners” or start serving them at 4:30pm. We’re not THAT old.)
5. We misplaced our metabolisms a decade ago and simply can’t feast as in days of yore. Some of us are drinking less alcohol. So offer us small plates, tapas, mini desserts—good food in smaller portions, and half glasses of wine. The fact that many of us have dietary restrictions—low-salt, no gluten—should be viewed as an opportunity to make the customer happy, not a burden.
6. However, that doesn’t mean we now suddenly want mushy, boring, old fart fare. We’re the push-the-envelope generation that made sushi, diverse ethnic cuisines, good coffee, craft beer, exotic salts and more commonplace in the United States.
7. We still love going out for dinner so treat us well or we’ll launch a protest. If you thought we were cranky as teenagers, just wait until you get a load of us as demanding, rebellious and very active elders. I can’t say for sure, but I doubt we’ll go gently into that good night without demanding our senior discount.
ON THE MENU
Among the best things I’ve tasted at North Metro area eateries in the past month or so include an exquisite mizuna, grape tomato, prosciutto and house-made smoked mozzarella-topped, wood-fired pizza at Pizzeria Basta, 3601 Arapahoe Ave., Boulder; a fragrant and memorable thin-crusted pesto-sauced pizza topped with sun-dried tomato, lots of good mozzarella and great sausage at Pulcinella Pizzeria, 385 Crossing Drive, Lafayette; and an authentic, big-crumbed, lightly sweet, golden raisin scone with butter and honey from A Grande Finale Patisserie, 641 Main St., Louisville.
Colorado chefs and restaurants are atypically well-represented in the semifinalist roster for the Oscars of American restaurants, the James Beard Awards. Nominees in various categories include James Rugile (Venue), Jennifer Jasinski (Rioja), Mark Fischer (Six89), Frank Bonanno (Mizuna, Luca d’Italia, Bones) Steve Ells (Chipotle), Yasmin Lozada-Hissom (Duo), Alex Seidel (Fruition), Bertrand Bouquin (Summit), Ryan Hardy (Montagna), Kelly Liken (Restaurant Kelly Liken), as well as Frasca and the Penrose Room. Janos Wilder of Janos in Tucson, Ariz., is nominated in the outstanding American chef category. He got his start cooking at the venerable Gold Hill Inn west of Boulder. …Forbes recently named Boulder’s Happy restaurant as one of America’s Best New Restaurants. …Users of the Metromix Denver website recently voted Lafayette’s Magnolia Restaurant & Sushi Bar as their favorite restaurant.
Little Anita’s, an award-winning eatery dishing authentic New Mexican fare, has opened at Broomfield Marketplace on U.S. 287. …Maiberry has opened at 1433 Pearl St. in Boulder dishing a new, creamier style of natural frozen yogurt using house-made, thick Greek-style yogurt, plus shaved ice and smoothies. …Himalayas Indian & Nepali Cuisine has closed in Longmont. The Boulder Himalayas restaurant remains open at 2010 14th St. …Circle, which debuted in November at 1035 Pearl St. in Boulder has closed. In it’s place, owner Steve Abo will soon open one of his popular Abo’s Pizza restaurants. The space will also become a nightclub on weekends. …Bacco Trattoria and Mozzarella Bar has opened at 1200 Yarmouth Ave. in North Boulder. …Yaki Maki has closed at 1175 Walnut St., Boulder. Filling the location will be Boulder Organic Pizza. …Radex Bistro is the new name for chef Radek Cerny’s Full Belly Bistro at 2779 Iris Ave., Boulder. …Coming soon in Boulder’s Hill district: Del Taco at 1100 13th St., former longtime home of Dairy Queen, and La’au’s Taco Shop at 1335 Broadway.
A Nibbles reader recently emailed asking if I had a good recipe for rice pudding. I’m happy to oblige. While I’ve become a big fan of crème brulee, panna cotta, flan and zabaglione, I grew up on their Middle American comfort cousin: pudding. Mom made the cooked kind with the skin on top until instant pudding was invented, but my favorite was classic creamy rice pudding. Check out the recipe.
Mazer Cup International Winners Circle Mead Tasting Event is March 26 at the Boulder Outlook Hotel. Info at mazercup.com. …I’ll be hosting and judging a professional pie competition with Pat Miller, The Gabby Gourmet, March 27 at Steve’s Snappin’ Dogs (a great hot dog joint) in Denver, 3525 East Colfax Ave. Details: gabbygourmet.com/pie.htm …The Boulder County Farmers Market opens April 3 in Boulder, May 1 in Longmont. …The FRIENDS of Broomfield Wine Tasting is April 20 at Westminster’s Butterfly Pavilion. Tickets at friendsofbroomfield.org. …Get tickets now if you want to attend the annual Taste of Elegance Chef’s Competition June 9 at Broomfield’s Omni Interlocken. Details: 1.866.946.3268. …If you’ve got an upcoming event, a complaint, recipe request or baked good you wish me to sample, let me know at: email@example.com.
“After a good dinner, one can forgive anybody, even one’s relatives.”—Oscar Wilde
“The dinner table is the center for the teaching and practicing not just of table manners but of conversation, consideration, tolerance, family feeling, and just about all the other accomplishments of polite society except the minuet.”
—Judith Martin (Miss Manners)