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(Los Angeles, California) – Restaurant and bar patrons cheaped out last year, swapping expensive bottles of wine for more affordable single glasses, ditching entrees for appetizers and sides and even passing on dessert.

Though consumer spending is ticking up, the unstable economy and high food prices have kept diners wary of hefty checks. Hence the 2.8 percent boom in appetizer and side orders last year, compared to a 1.5 percent slide in demand for entrees, according to GuestMetrics, which tracks hospitality industry data.

The average starter dish – oysters, chicken wings and empanadas are increasingly popular – costs $5.57. An entrée runs $11.56, according to GuestMetric’s database of 250 million full-service restaurant checks.

The collection represents $8 billion in transactions.

Dessert is also getting the shaft, with orders slumping 2.3 percent amid declining demand for brownies and cakes. Dessert represents 6 percent of all food items sold while entrees account for 52 percent.

Sales at table service restaurants and bars weakened as 2012 progressed, steadily slimming from a 2.7 percent growth in the first quarter to a 0.5 percent drop by the fourth.

The money-saving trend is also evident in beverages. Instead of ordering wine bottles – an activity that shrank 13 percent last year – restaurant and bar patrons ordered 4 percent more glasses.

A single goblet cost $9.60 on average in 2012, up 3 percent from the year before. But the cost of a full bottle soared 9 percent to $43. Nearly nine in ten wine orders were for a glass of wine over a bottle.

Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Pinot Grigio all lost market share among patrons, though they’re still the most popular options. But varietals such as  Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir and Malbec are gaining fast, according to GuestMetrics.

SOURCE: LATimes

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