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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Restaurants Roll Out Anti-Crisis Menus

The managers at Riva, an upscale restaurant overlooking the Moscow River, have been busy of late deleting some of the more expensive items from their menu and adding more affordable items like borshch, the salad bar and sandwiches.

The new "Anti-Crisis Menu," as the managers are calling it, is advertised in bright colors splashed across a 7-meter-wide cardboard sign to the right of the restaurant's entrance on Savvinsky Pereulok.

"Our aim is to provide a fillip to the flagging Russian spirit in this uneasy period," said Riva manager Dmitry Ivanov. "We want our customers to eat well and to continue to feel good about themselves despite the economic crisis."

As the global economic meltdown hits home hard, the restaurant business is showing some signs of distress after a long period of growth, with many restaurant chains and individual businesses seeing sales fall as diners spend less or simply stay home.

"More and more diners prefer homemade cuisine," Ivanov said. "That means we need to be more creative in what we offer."

Over the past three months, the number of visits to the country's restaurants has fallen by 25 percent from the same period last year, said Alexander Ivanov, vice president of Russian Federation of Restaurateurs.

He said a continuation in the trend could put some restaurants out of business and change dining habits, with a greater segment of the population opting for fast-food outlets over traditional, sit-down restaurants.

Dmitry Ionkin, a 47-year-old truck driver, took advantage of the changes in the restaurant market.

"I never thought it would take a crisis to be able to afford a good lunch," Ionkin said, as he was leaving the restaurant on Monday. "But if you consider that the ruble is also falling, the reduction in price on the anti-crisis menu isn't so obvious."

Ionkin said he only dines out lately if he has to, most often when his work means that he is simply unable to eat at home.

"In a situation where salaries have also lost value, it is probably more economical to eat sandwiches than dole out 300 rubles for an anti-crisis lunch," he said.

Ivanov, of the Federation of Restaurateurs, said the fall in numbers of people eating in restaurants calls for concerted efforts to avert a complete collapse of the sector, adding that his organization met on Monday to map out a series of anti-crisis measures.

"Members must find a common solution to the gradual but steady reduction in visits," he said.

Emergency measures to help restaurants survive could include streamlining their operations, he said.

"There are different ways restaurants can reduce costs in the current situation," Ivanov said. "Restaurant owners may need to cut back on purchases, reduce staff or prune down menu items or a combination of the above. The important thing is to stay afloat."

The federation will also consider appealing to the government for tax cuts for small and medium-sized businesses, he said.

The restaurant industry witnessed unfettered growth in the 1990s as new restaurants and fast-food outlets opened to meet growing demand. But competition has grown more heated in recent years as the sector approached saturation and restaurants introduced ideas like the now-ubiquitous "business lunch" to attract new customers.

With the onset of the crisis, people are cutting down on some discretionary spending, including eating out.

"The crisis has made a bad situation worse for restaurants," said Koba Morokhua, manager of Tiflis restaurant, on Ulitsa Ostozhenka, near Park Kultury metro station. "Fewer and fewer diners are stopping by, especially since August. They are not altering their menu choice; they are simply disappearing."

He said the business relies heavily on middle-class customers and that as businesses cut back on staff, the hospitality industry is particularly vulnerable.

"Restaurants catering to middle-level managers will be hardest hit," Morokhua said. "Lately, many of them could be seen ordering only business lunch, which costs less than $10."

This holiday season is likely to drive home the extent to which the restaurant industry could be hurt.

Along with employees and some investment, many companies are not throwing end-of-the-year corporate parties, which make up the lion's share of restaurants' December business.

So far, more than 70 percent of corporate events slated for December have been cancelled this year, according Federation of Restaurateurs figures.

Most of the cancellations were from Western companies, a reflection of the depth of the crisis in their base countries, said Yury Turkada, a manager at Godunov, a restaurant specializing in Russian cuisine.

Turkada said restaurants catering to more traditional Russian diners have not suffered from the crisis.

"We noticed a dip in visits in early October, but I think this can be attributed to seasonal factors," he said.

Some restaurateurs say they have seen no changes in the number of client.

"Demand from customers is still high, and the [economic] problems haven't had much of an effect on our bottom line," said Alexei Kirishenko, manager of William Bass, a restaurant specializing in English cuisine, on Ulitsa Yakimanka. "So far, there is no discernible change in the number of diners or their choice of food."

The tighter economic situation is likely to have the least effect on bars and roadhouse-style establishments, said Dmitry Shuleyev, a manager at the American Bar & Grill, just off Tverskaya Ulitsa.

"A bar is usually the last point of call in a time of crisis," Shuleyev said. "People always come in for a few drinks and snacks, but these days I see foreigners trickle in and simply sit down and drink."