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Although dining out is one of the first ways people reportedly are cutting back on expenses nationally, restaurants surveyed in Tuscarawas County aren't seeing a major impact.

Michael Smith, chef and co-owner of Trax Diner at Dennison, said, "We're still up from where we were last year. I'm not sure if that's because people aren't traveling to Canton and are staying more local. We're not seeing a drop in appetizer orders. Our business has stayed pretty constant. We do have a clientele that's probably more established, upper middle class, so we may not be affected as much as others."

Sandy Himes, manager of Dee's Restaurant at New Philadelphia, said, "We're still busy. Dinner may be a little slower because it's more expensive, but it's still decent. Breakfast is still the busiest time.

"Our regulars are still coming in - that goes for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I think people are still going to continue to go out to eat whether there's a recession or not. I think the world will keep on going. People are still out shopping. We sold close to 100 pies for Thanksgiving."

Kelly Yoder and his wife, Cindy, purchased Miller's Dutch Kitch'n at Baltic in June after she had worked there 16 years. For years, the restaurant has offered a $2 off coupon.

"We're not increasing prices," Kelly said. "I'm actually looking to lower a few of them and keep promoting our lunch and dinner specials through our advertising and Web site."

"The coupon has always gone over big," Cindy said. "We probably get 30 to 40 of those per week, but really it's hard to track because we give it back to them to use again. That surprises them the first time."

Kelly estimated that about 15 percent of customers use a coupon.

"We do have a nice crowd usually," Cindy said. "I feel that's because we have very reasonable prices on our lunch specials. We also have chicken specials for lunch on Mondays and Wednesday nights - those are our best times." She said that area residents frequent the restaurant.

"I don't think people are driving quite as far any more," she said.

Greg Fleser, general manager at New Towne Mall at New Philadelphia, said all the merchants in the food court have been in place for a year or more, making for a strong comparison.

"While some restaurants have reported changes in customer expenditures, particularly at dinner time, total sales as a group are up slightly year-to-date compared to last year," he said.

There are nine merchants considered part of the food court, even though Auntie Anne's Soft Pretzels has moved within the mall.

"I haven't noticed any substantial change from last year during any particular time of the day or the volume of customers," Fleser said. "The food court business is pretty consistent as compared to other years at any given time of the day."

Jim Sexton, owner of Pangrazio's Pizza and Spaghetti House at Dennison, said, "I think things are slowing down a little, but we're doing pretty well. Two weeks ago Friday, we had our best night ever, and it wasn't in connection with any event."

He said people are using many more coupons. "The way things are, if you can get something for $9.95 instead of $12 for the same thing, which one would you take?"

At least 50 to 60 of the $1 coupon on placemats are returned each week, he said.

"My opinion is that the more high-class, fancier restaurants are going to be hurting more than us," Sexton said. "People can have a meal here for less than $20. On Thursdays, we offer a $5.95 spaghetti meal, and that's very popular. Overall, people are looking for a deal. With our restaurant, it's the consistency, service and value. That's what people are looking for."   Dec. 2008 - The T-R Business News article