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Waiting for the post-recession crowds

Restaurateurs have differing takes on whether the lengthy economic lull is really over.

November 13, 2011|By Rebecca Bryant
  • Empty tables at Lola's Peruvian Restaurant in Glendale after the lunch rush on Thursday, November 10, 2011. (Tim Berger/Staff Photographer)
Empty tables at Lola's Peruvian Restaurant in Glendale…

The Great Recession officially ended in the summer of 2009. So diners have flocked back to restaurants, filling tables and tip pockets, right? It depends on who you ask.

Some restaurants have hung on to their low prices to try to keep customers coming through their doors, others have turned to social media outlets like Groupon, and others are just trying to hold on until the holidays, hoping to get a boost from winter shoppers.

At La Cabañita, a Mexico City-style restaurant in Montrose, the still-sluggish economy isn’t keeping diners away. “We’re doing well. Business was down for a bit, but now it’s back up,” said manager Jocelyn Ramos. “It never really hit bottom for us, but now it’s steady.”

She attributes the longtime restaurant’s success to reasonable prices, its lunch specials, and, just maybe, its popular margaritas.

The National Restaurant Assn.’s index charting the health of the industry has been up and down in 2011, and the group has noted that 40% of people polled said they were not dining out or ordering takeout as often as they would like.

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Diners aren’t coming to Lola’s Peruvian Restaurant as often as owner Jenaro Balarezo would like. “It’s bad right now. Since the recession things are not going well,” said Balarezo, who has Lola’s branches in Van Nuys and on Brand Boulevard in Glendale. He says business had picked up a little but dipped again recently. “These last two months dropped at least 10%,” he said. “I don’t see where the recession is over.”

But he said the restaurant is planning to outlast the economic downturn, working with Groupon to bring in new customers, despite not making as much profit on the bargain certificates. He’s hoping once diners taste Lola’s ceviche and other specialties they’ll come back, without a Groupon.

“We’re planning to stay here,” he said. “We’re just hoping for the recession to stop. We’re trying to get new customers for the future.”

Daniel Conway, legislative and public affairs director for the California Restaurant Assn., said many restaurants are still struggling.

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