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Final in a Series – St. Pete Restaurants and the Economy

The past few weeks have been interesting, as I’ve collected feedback from both restaurant proprietors and the general public about their views on the dining establishments in St. Pete.

Restaurants, for the most part, are certainly “stepping-up” to give customers more options at affordable prices. While restaurants are watching their food cost carefully, it has not seemed to affect the general quality and menu choices available to diners. (There are a couple of small exceptions.)
What I’m hearing from diners is basically this: Treat us kindly and with respect for patronizing your establishment. Give us the best deals you can, because the economy is tough right now, and we don’t really want to deal with snobbiness, restaurant reservations and the like (unless it is a special occasion).
St. Petersburg, in case you aren’t aware, is a moderately-sized city that still thinks it is a small town. In many ways, it IS a small town. Word gets around fast in these parts about the best values and best service. With the advent of bloggers and social networking sites like Facebook, news (and gossip) now travel at lightning speed.
It is a slippery slope for owners of restaurants. For the most part, they stay out of the fray and continue to serve the public as best they can. In the end, and no matter what I or any other food writer has to say, the public makes their own assessment as to whether a restaurant will live or die. That is not to say that a scathing review will not have a major effect on business at restaurants. It will. However, I personally choose to tell people where they might like to go rather than taking down a family business, for instance.
To recap the rest of the feedback I have received, I think we generally agree on the following:
1) Parking downtown is an issue that should be addressed by the city.
2) Baywalk has made some major changes to lure tenants back in, offering more events and free parking after 5 and on weekends.
3) The trolley system is a huge asset to Central Avenue, particularly the re-emerging Grand Central District.
4) Most are compassionate toward the homeless downtown, but there are some people who continue to worry about walking around downtown at night.
5) Restaurants are beginning to work together more on events to keep people coming back.
6) There is some concern that very high rents on Beach Drive could kill emerging business before it has a chance to thrive.
All in all, St. Pete restaurants are rallying back and in many cases, thriving. I hope they keep responding to the likes and needs of their customers. I also hope landlords and vendors continue to work with local dining spots to keep costs affordable for everyone.

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