Dining with Dodson: The economics of the dinner table: it’s not all gloom and doom

As college students, we find many things to fear about an economic downturn: hiring freezes at the University, diminished services and gloomy job prospects. But for me, one of my biggest concerns is how will I still be able to eat the types of food that I enjoy eating, without substituting or eliminating palatable items from the menu.In the past few weeks, I have spoken to a few restaurant owners and I have done a little research of my own regarding increasing food prices and recession cooking. As far as I can tell, no one feels that they are alone in this endeavor — creating a meal that is not only filling and tasty but also cost efficient. There is a pressing need for people to find a way to feed their families without depleting bank accounts and, at the same time, indulging themselves in delicious commodities without feeling guilty about it. Thankfully, some restaurant owners have recognized this need for full bellies and full wallets. Aaron Park, owner of Henry and Marty, a chic but casual restaurant in the college town of Brunswick, Maine, is in tune with the times. When confronted with difficult challenges, the person who prevails is frequently one who doesn’t shy away from these challenges and embraces innovation. Such as Park, who has introduced a new area for his menu: petite entrées. This simply means a smaller version of the entrée of choice. When asked how petite entrées are contributing to his marketing strategy in this new global economy, Park said, “We must give the opportunity for people to experience what they had before the recession.” “We want people to feel comfortable about going out — not guilty about it. It helps to regain their confidence that everything will be OK,” he said. Park, a previous owner of The Westside Café in Portland, Maine, has experienced other economic downturns in his professional life before. But through the difficult times, his mantra has been consistent: “Be true to what you do and what you love — people will be loyal to that.” Besides giving me a feeling of hope for the restaurant industry, Park gave me permission to enjoy the foods that I like, without feeling a need to substitute for a lesser product.All in all, no matter how dire things become, there will always be people who value the act of cooking and eating. There is something so inherently familial and serene about partaking in creating and sharing a meal with others. Whether it be at the price of a bargain, or simply a meal concocted out of nothing, the act of cooking and eating together manages to trump the difficult times, somehow bringing comfort to us all.