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Can Someone Please Tell the NY Times We're in a Recession?

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I know, you'd think they'd already know, being one of the most widely read papers in the nation, but it's clear from a recent piece by food critic Frank Bruni that the features writers clearly didn't get the memo.

The headline?
"Great Meals For Two, Under $100 (It's Possible)"


Oh really, Mr. Bruni? What's your next piece? "Hey, All of You on That Unemployment Line: Try the Cake!"

An excerpt from the article, and my astonished and sputtering reaction are below the cut.

Let_them_eat_cake_3

(artist rendering of food critic Frank Bruni)

"For my meals I indeed set myself a ceiling. A dinner for two that was at least three courses in a restaurant structured that way — and a similar amount of food in a restaurant that wasn’t — would be $99 or less, including tax and a tip of 20 percent on the total of the check before tax.

. . .

It was an experiment for lean times, but not an exercise in cheap eats. After all, even many of the most keenly cost-conscious diners can still afford — and still want to enjoy — food of some distinction in full-service restaurants with some coddling." [emphasis mine]

full story here

Oh really? Over half a million people lost their jobs just last month. There are over 2,000,000 unemployed people in the United States, and that figure doesn't include people who are no longer receiving unemployment benefits. This figure also leaves out the vast number of underemployed Americans — people who are still employed but whose hours and/or benefits have been cut.

Yet, while stories run in their front section about huge lay-offs and corporate bailouts, it's clear from the features sections that the New York Times cares only about readers who are still gainfully employed with six-figure incomes. Bruni deigns to suggest that "many of the most keenly cost-conscious diners can still afford" a $100 meal for two?  That people are still concerned with "food of some distinction" and with receiving "some coddling" by waitstaff? Dude, your privilege is showing. For many of the people I know, the concern is far closer to, "can I afford meat?" than, "will the waiter place my napkin in my lap for me?"

Is it any wonder the New York Times' subscription numbers continue to dwindle each year? They've been consistently given the rap that they're a bunch of out of touch, liberal snobs. I am more liberal in my politics than Paula Deen is with bacon fat, but even I am marginalized by the Times, because the idea of spending even $50 on one meal right now is laughable in my household.

Look, Times editors, if you're only going to concern yourself with the richest 1-5% of readers, what makes you think the other 95% of us will seek out your news coverage? What would make us think you feel any journalistic responsibility at all for providing accurate coverage of the ways this economic crisis affects ordinary Americans when you print this "Let Them Eat Cake" bullshit? And don't even get me started on the Style section, particularly with its Sunday wedding write-ups wherein people spend more on their weddings than the average American's mortgage.

In summation, I have officially had it with you, New York Times. I sincerely hope you're among the next papers to go tits up. I can see no fate for unbecoming of a bunch of elite pigs who continue to play the fiddle while Rome burns.







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Comments

JayMonster

I'm sorry, I understand what you are saying, but I really feel you are pulling this a bit out of context.

This is after all the Dining & Wine Section, and thus is about Dining Out, and specifically dining out in NY.

Now I get the anger, because in tough times, yes, normal people are cutting back. But if you are worrying about putting food on the table, then you are not discussing dining out in New York City. Personally, TheWife and I used to go to New York once a year for our anniversary for "good meal and coddling" but we have since given this up for "lesser" closer to home New Jersey restaurants. But like it or not (I don't really care), there are still more than enough people dining in New York restaurants for this to be a relevant piece to the target audience (which again is somebody reading about Dining & Wine).


And to put this in the context of trying to compare it with the "news" section (which Dining and Wine is clearly not) is unfair to the editors. No doubt this section is still there because there are still enough advertisers to keep the section viable, otherwise it like some other sections will have been reduced or removed.

Now don't get me wrong, I am not the "target" of this type of section either. Even when we did dine in Manhattan we were never the "3 course and more" kind of people. But really, I don't hate those that can still enjoy it to be angry about it.


Amelia

I live in an affluent Southern community, and I work for the largest newspaper in the area. If we printed something like this, I'm pretty sure our editors ears would be bleeding from all the reader complaints. So far we're one of the few newspapers that haven't seen major downsizing because of the economic crisis, and we'd like to keep it that way. I would think the Times would feel the same. But what do I know, I'm just a lowly advertising exec.

Amelia

I live in an affluent Southern community, and I work for the largest newspaper in the area. If we printed something like this, I'm pretty sure our editors ears would be bleeding from all the reader complaints. So far we're one of the few newspapers that haven't seen major downsizing because of the economic crisis, and we'd like to keep it that way. I would think the Times would feel the same. But what do I know, I'm just a lowly advertising exec.

Tracy

I agree with Jay. I mean, the restaurant industry is huge and employs lots of people as well...those folks need the business just as much as anyone.

In some areas of the country, $100 for 2 for a 3 course meal may seem like a lot, but in areas like NYC and San Francisco, where I live, it is actually "reasonable".

Yes, the economy sucks, and we've cut back too, but when we do save our pennies for a nice night out, we'd like to be able to do so relatively economically and not have to resort to Olive Garden.

Amie

Honestly, even going to a place like Olive Garden, or even Applebees, for two people to have an appetizer, main dish, drinks, and then include tax, you're easily looking at a $50 or $60 bill, if not more. And that's where I live, which is Kansas City, hardly a place considered one of the food meccas of the U.S.

So, in comparison to that, spending $100 for two meals, including tax and tip as the article stated, in NYC really doesn't seem expensive in the least. Yes, there are people out there at poverty level and below, and no, something like this is hardly considered reasonable to them. Then again, I doubt they're really worried about what the NYT's has to say in it's Dining and Wine section anyway.

Snarky Amber

With all due respect, I think there are far for people above the poverty line who, in current times, would balk at spending $100 on a meal for two, even for a special occasion. I am considered "middle class" and can't afford Christmas presents this year.

The point of my response is that the New York Times is out of touch with 95% of Americans, and this is just one example of the elitist perspective of the Times.

Heidi

Word, Amber. WORD.

I hear what all the other commenters are saying, but I still find it VERY hard to read.

And Amber, thanks for the inspiration for a post of my own about a similar article in the Boston Globe. (I was gonna leave a novel here in the comments and then I remembered, that's why I have my own blog.)

Hil

I agree with Jay that this reaction is a bit extreme. The article addresses the topic of fine dining in New York in the context of a specific budget. It's all relative- their suggestions are more affordable options for readers wanting a fine dining experience in NYC without having to shell out $500 to do it. It's an article with a specific (however narrow) scope, not the NYT's answer to what those on the "unemployment line" should eat.

Karen

Um. New York Times has a readership that is based mostly in New York City, am I right? IIRC, the cost of living in New York, and that includes dining out, is higher than in other areas of the US.

I don't know. I live in the Rust Belt and we're being hit hard by the recession, and I just can't muster any anger here. I'm sure most of the people hit hard by the recession are *not* reading the Dining and Wine section of most newspapers.

They're out of touch, I get it. But so are a LOT of newspapers and magazines. "O" the Oprah magazine? Real Simple? Martha? All out of touch. And they're national.

FM

I agree with the post that this is somewhat out of context.. and that the section was catering to it's audience that reads it.

That being said, I agree it would be more timely and empathetic to see if they would run an article about dinner for two in new york for under $70.00 (more of a challenge) - a good dinner mind you.

My wife and I have had great NY dinners for us and three kids for under 30.00 and that's with tax and tip. (Thank you Boston Market). At the same time, dinner off of Central Park, for us and the kids on the night of the blowing up of the Thanksgiving Baloons (and I was just hungry - I would have eaten anything) was over $100.00

I'd like to hear the take of a NY event planner who knows all the restaurants and prices...

kdiddy

YER JUST MAD CUZ YER POOR!

jodifur

I am an avid reader of the Washington Post's restaurant critic and he is constantly getting criticized for not giving people less expensive dinning out options. And in DC, which is similar to New York, less expensive should not be $100 for two. I don't disagree at all with what Amber was saying here.

bd

NYC Event Planner? Um, that's me for the past 12 years. I plan dinner meetings for doctors for continuing education credits. Sparing you all the free-fall of the CME/pharmaceutical industry and its effects on the hospitality industry, I can tell you that there are guidelines for physican educational dinners, capping at $100 per person including tax and gratuity. And that can go up to $125 in 1st tier cities like NY, San Fran, and Chicago. Why? Because it is really hard to find. I cant take my docs to Sbarro's. And the restaurants we used to frequent have lost business due to these new caps. Some have been creative by creating "pharma menus" at $100 all inclusive (I LOVE YOU SPIAGGIA!)

That being said, the article is directed to a specific segment of the audience, not the general public. NYC is still a great town for high-priced eats if you can afford it. And damn, I work here so dinner for 2 at $100 is a steal. Hell, lunch can go as hight as $15 at a deli (hence I brown bag it when I can). I personally love Boston Market too but have had many times where I was lucky enough to eat at 11 Madison Park and Grey Cafe before the change, and only able to do so because of the audience we were targeting. I still have to keep up with the James Beard award winners in order to entice my audience with a new place to go, but even now, it is becoming less frequent.

It does seem silly to even think about spending that much on dinner in a recession, but I dont see Tom Colicchio's Tuesday Nights $1000 dinners ceasing anytime soon. http://www.craftrestaurant.com/ There is a market, it just doesnt seem fair right now.

Snarky Amber

Not to belabor the point that is disputed so popularly here, but the median household income in NYC in 2004 is less than $45K/year. Not everyone lives like Carrie Bradshaw. In the real world, in fact, there's no way Carrie Bradshaw could live like Carrie Bradshaw without pulling some serious Holly Golightly shizz on the side.

bd

Sorry y'all, Tom's Tuesday Nights are $150 prix fixe per person, I typo'ed above (I was going for $100 dinners but even still). Sorry! http://dinersjournal.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/09/30/colicchio-cooks/

Darcey

I totally see both Amber's point and those of the commenters.

Yes, we're in a recession, and yes, its definitely a treat to go out for dinner in any situation. My parents are the type strapped for cash (they're struggling to survive in the real estate market), and dinner out for them is limited to picking up Chick-fil-A, or maybe Chili's.

But for my line of work, I have to entertain clients on occasion. So that means a nice dinner out, with full-service, a bit of coddling, and 3+ courses. My office, of course, is looking to keep costs down, so seeing an article in the NYT about dinner for 2 under $100 (especially 3 days before I fly to NYC for one of these meetings), is something to look out for.

Or, take for example, as special milestone celebration. I completed my first marathon in Vegas this weekend with two of my friends. The only thing we wanted to do to celebrate was go out for a nice, but not overly extravagant dinner. In Vegas, your options are limitless, much like NYC (y'know, the places that don't list prices because if you have to ask, you can't afford it?), so a guide like this would be rather handy.

Moo

I'm with Jay.

I'm not loaded, by any means. I just blew every penny of my money on a post-college spell abroad, and so am living my my parents' basement and saving enough to move out.

My parents are not loaded, either. They are firmly middle class and self-employed and as concerned as everyone else when it comes to future income.

But as a journalist -- and as a reader -- I have to say that pieces like this don't need to bring about such furor.

First of all, that piece was intended for a specific audience interested in food and wine. And as several other people have noted, to eat and drink in NY is to spend a chunk of change. If you don't live there, you shouldn't expect a word of it to apply to you in any way.

Second of all, the fact that the masses are struggling - or at the very least, cautiously saving in the event that they're personally affected in the near future - does not mean that those who are able to enjoy themselves shouldn't be able to. It doesn't mean that they have no right to dine out, and it doesn't mean that every publication should drop everything and turn themselves into page after page of Helpful Hints for Survival.

Besides, that's f'ing depressing. Why not just look at it as dreamy fluff? There's nothing wrong with dreaming about what we can't have. Just like Louboutins in the pages of Vogue.

sweetney

kdiddy just make me do a spit-take.

Ed

Let's not forget, NYC is BIG. The median income for NYC includes all of NYC including the decidedly middle-class parts of the outer boroughs, not just Manhattan, where a decent condo will cost over $1500 a square foot.

The jaw-dropping expense of everything in Manhattan takes a lot of getting used to. $38 a head for appetizer, main course and dessert but before drinks, tax and tip? In Manhattan, it's hard not to go over that even at TGI Friday's. Even a Happy Meal will cost you eight bucks there.

The real trick to dining in Manhattan if you don't live there is a) never eat at a chain--you can do that at home; b) get good at reading the Zagat guides; c) don't forget Brooklyn--there's a lot of good eating just across the East River; and d) get to know a lot of people who live there, and who have their little secret hole-in-the-ground places that nobody else knows about.

The other caveat is that outward appearance can be deceiving. Two sushi places that look as identical from the outside as two Starbucks: One is decent, but no better than the sushi place a mile from your house, the other the best sushi you'll find on the east coast.

Hil

I see what you are saying about the NYC median income, Amber- the NYT article doesn't address that truth. I guess what I'm saying is that the article wasn't geared towards an average-income demographic, nor did it purport to have answers for those struggling to put food on the table- the same is true of the whole dining section in general.

And yeah, we're "officially" in a recession now, but people have been struggling for a while. Hell, there's always people struggling no matter what the state of the economy. There will always be people whose daily realities do not jive with the voice of the NYT dining section. What makes this so offensive now?

FM

BD - I'm still laughing that you didn't realize that post was from me.. the guy you've had Boston Market with, and some pretty fancy fare! I tossed up the softball pitch and you hit it outta the park!

Thanks again for those times you brought me home those awesome left overs from your meetings. I miss those.




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