Recession-weary Australians find thrift fun

March 1st, 2009 - 9:50 am ICT by IANS  

Sydney, March 1 (DPA) Paul Camilleri of Sydney’s plush Restaurant Sojourn is offering a three-course lunch for 30 Australian dollars ($19).
“It’ll be more bistro food, but I don’t make any money anyway,” he said.

Credit-crunch lunches are all the rage in corporate Australia, where the table talk is of job security not annual bonuses.

The McDonald’s down the road has never been busier. But it’s hard to say whether those who used to slide their chairs in at Sojourn are the same ones queuing for quarter-pounders.

Welcome to a whacky recessionary world where top-shelf chocolates are selling well - and so are baked beans, and where cinemas showing feel-good films are doing good business - as are discount stores like Aldi.

Karen Phillips, of research firm The Leading Edge, says it’s now cool to be careful. “The whole tone of over-consumption and flashing cash is distasteful,” she said.

So rather than bring a sandwich from home, executives like to be seen out for a credit-crunch lunch. And rather than mope about at home, people cheer themselves up with cinema tickets.

“We haven’t seen any negative effects from the global financial crisis,” said Peter Cody of the Greater Union cinema chain. “We’ve just had a sensational December and January, which are traditionally our two peak trading months.”

People don’t have to go to the movies when times are tough, but they do. Boom or bust, they still have to eat - and it’s the cheap and cheerful end of the market that is doing best.

McDonald’s plans to open 39 new outlets this year. But lots of high-end eateries are expecting to close.

“We’re certainly missing the good times of the last 10 years,” said restaurant lobby group head Robert Goldman. “People will still be going out on a Friday, but whether they go out during the week, that’s the really big question.”

Researchers say it’s simply too hard to say whether patrons have deserted Sojourn for Domino’s Pizza. It’s more complex than that.

Bakeries report selling more buns as more office workers take packed lunches rather than slipping out for something at lunchtime.

Economists note that recessions do funny things.

Britain’s biggest ever football crowds were in the dreary days after World War II when both goods and jobs were scarce. How come so many hard up people were spending to go through the turnstiles?

One view is that recession-racked people turn away from what’s no longer comfortable and yet are desperate for entertainment.

In Sydney, they won’t watch the hard-hitting dramas at the Sydney Theatre Company but they’ll queue to watch a revival of the upbeat musical “Buddy - The Buddy Holly Story”.

One thing for certain is that Australians are largely ignoring pleas from the government to spend, spend, spend. Credit card debt is falling fast as recalcitrant householders bank hand-outs intended to stimulate the economy out of its torpor.

But there are lots and lots of anomalies. Would you believe that a big beneficiary of the downturn is the cruise industry?

Cruise line executives say their all-in packages are being snapped up because it’s a fixed-price holiday that’s fully paid for before you go. Yes, a thrifty week cruising the Pacific.

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