Times are tough. Steep gas prices. Escalating food prices. Financial reports show that restaurant profits are eroding because of the rising cost of fuel, wheat, cheese and more. It can only be a matter of time before dining prices begin to rise more steeply -- though restaurants so far have been trying to avoid hiking prices too much because scrimping diners are already cutting back on their visits -- often in favor of cheaper, fast-food outlets. (A quick Web browse offers a taste of what eateries are doing to retain their clientele: starting "kids' nights" earlier, offering more daily specials and coupons; offering cooking classes by restaurant chefs; battling fiercely to retain the breakfast-dining market.)
Here's a report from the Boston Globe on what some creative diners are doing -- they're heading to hospital canteens for a nice meal out on the town.
"It's not just Jell-O and meatloaf any more," proclaims the article headline. At Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital-Needham, you can get buttered toast for $0.40 and clam chowder for $1.75. At Leonard Morse Hospital in Natick, $4.29 will get you "a 6-ounce, pan-seared tuna steak atop a Caesar salad." Hospitals don't check who's eating in their facilities, and several food service spokesmen quoted in the article say they know they have regulars who step in from the outside. Among the familiar faces at Leonard Morse of the MetroWest Medical Center: landscapers who worked on the grounds a few years ago and just keep coming back. "It's underground eating," says production manager Brad Jackson.
-- Rosie Mestel