Incredible shrinking restaurant portions, and other sneaky tricks

Dining out in New York is often a heady experience -- especially when you get the check. You can't stop going back for more, however, because it's just too convenient, and fun, and part of the joy of living in a big city. But after reading about how some high-end eateries are coping with the economic downturn in the New York Times, I'm starting to get inclined to just stay home and cook my own over-priced food.

The Times talks to restaurant owners who are finding ways to stretch a buck, mostly by serving cheaper ingredients and smaller portions. At fancy places, that means smaller lobsters at some exorbitant price and hanger steak instead of strip steaks. Some places are offering early bird specials and bar specials. Some are considering no-show fees. Like airlines that keep tacking on fees for things that used to be free, that's probably going to be the last straw for casual diners. Freelance writer Carol Vinzant covered 10 restaurant tricks, for WalletPop back in May.

Coping With the Economy

    As economic troubles keep diners at home, restaurants are starting to cut back on portion sizes and are using cheaper ingredients -- even high-end hot spots. In New York, restaurant owners admit to shrinking lobsters, subbing shiitake mushrooms for morels and offering discount appetizers.

    Larry Crowe, AP

    To combat high food prices, many shoppers are turning to bulk purchases, which is driving up sales of stand-alone freezers. A new study shows that sales were up 7 percent in the first six months of the year.

    M. Spencer Green, AP

    Soaring prices for scrap metal may make demolition derbies a thing of the past. Owners who used to sell their worn-out wheels for $50 to $100 are turning to scrap dealers instead, getting nearly triple the price.

    Al Fenn, Time Life Pictures / Getty Images

    Cities are cracking down on people who steal from recycling bins, but the practice is getting so widespread that some weekly newspaper publishers going further and hiring private detectives and setting up stakeouts to catch poachers in the act.

    Paul Sakuma, AP

    With foreclosures at an all time high, homeless is rising sharply. One study says that 54 percent of foreclosure victims list moving into emergency shelters as one of their plans. More details.

    Mario Tama, Getty Images

    Swearing by strategies like coasting with their engines off, filling their tires to dangerous capacity and suffering in the summer heat instead of cranking up the A/C, "hypermilers" obsessively coax dozens more miles out of each gallon. More details.

    David McNew, Getty Images

    Joshua Persky, left, an unemployed financial engineer, took to the streets of New York wearing a sign saying "MIT Graduate for Hire" More details.

    Mark Lennihan, AP

    Philadelphia Sheriff John D. Green took the mortgage mess into his own hands this spring when he refused to hold a court-ordered foreclosure auction to try to give homeowners more time to work out a deal with their lenders.

    Philadelphia Sheriffs Department

    Michigan's Oakland County and New York's Suffolk County may join many companies across the country that are considering four-day workweeks for employees to try to cut gas costs.

    Ted S. Warren, AP

    There may be a lot more kids around in your neighborhood this summer as families seem to be cutting back on sending kids to camp, or will be sending them for shorter stays. Many private camps are reporting drops in enrollment, while non-profit camps are reporting little growth.

    Jim Cole, AP

The "sneaky" tricks outlined in the Times may seem a little obscure -- who really will object to shiitake mushrooms instead of morels? -- but the calculus is being played out in restaurants big and small across the country, and even in school cafeterias and lunch boxes. Burgers are getting smaller, portions of french fries are going on a diet, packaging is getting smaller and families are getting pinched.

In the long run, if we eat less, we will be healthier as a nation. But we still ought to get what we pay for. If we are paying premium prices for food, we should get premium food. And, most of all, if we are paying more, we shouldn't be getting less.
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