Fine-dining establishments put the recession on their menus

A down day on Wall Street may make many people see red, but not at New York's Trinity Place restaurant.

The upscale restaurant and bar in the Financial District is offering a "Market Tanked? Get Tanked!" promotion with all drinks for $3 from 3:30 p.m. to 5 p.m. whenever the market finishes in the red. "It has created a bit of fun at the bar," says Jason O'Brien, a managing partner at Trinity Place. "I wouldn't say (customers are) desperate to get a drink for $3, but they definitely appreciate it."

Information technology manager Robert Azapinto and his co-workers at nearby Royal Bank of Canada do. "We watch the market every afternoon before 4 o'clock," Azapinto says. "If it's red, we all come over. We're sitting there hoping it goes down so we can take advantage of it."

Trinity Place is one of many dining establishments across the country to launch a recession-related marketing gimmick to help customers — and their own businesses — during tough economic times.

Pops for Champagne, a Champagne bar and club in Chicago, runs a "Penny a Point" promotion pegged to the stock market. One cent is deducted from a guest's tab for every point gain on the Dow Jones Industrial Average on the days when it rises. If the Dow is up 100 points, each guest receives a dollar off their bill.

Cru, a one-Michelin-star restaurant in New York, launched "The New Deal Menu" after experiencing a 30% to 40% drop-off in business since September. Diners arriving before 6:30 p.m. Monday through Friday can enjoy a three-course, prix-fixe menu for $49 instead of the regular $84. Options include the signature fluke crudo for an appetizer and filet of tile bass for an entree.

"We were not very busy in the earlier part of the evening, so we thought we could offer kind of a recession special to try to bring people in that may normally not dine here," says Cru executive chef and partner Shea Gallante, whose seasonal tasting menu goes for $125.

Gallante estimates that 25% to 30% of his early-bird clients order the special. Some are regulars whose pockets aren't as deep as they once were, some are new and others aren't feeling the pinch at all.

"It's a way for us to try and accommodate people," he says. "It's not necessarily that they can't (afford the regular prices), but some people don't feel the need to spend that much money."

Joachim Splichal's Patina Restaurant Group, which has numerous locations in New York and Southern California, features a "Wines for the Wise" promotion. Diners receive 25% off all bottles until Feb. 28 on the West Coast and March 31 on the East Coast.

"The winter, post-holiday, is traditionally a time when diners don't like to spend as much dining out, and this (is) especially true in the current economic climate," says Nick Valenti, CEO of Patina Restaurant Group. "We want to provide our guests with an offer that is in sync with the times."

A "Soup Kitchen Cocktail Hour" at the Edison Lounge in downtown Los Angeles on Fridays from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. provides customers complimentary grilled cheese melts and tomato soup and 35-cent Depression-era cocktails, such as the 401(k), a gin cocktail served in a half-empty glass. The lounge donates 25% of its net proceeds from the entire evening to local food banks and charities.

The "Blue Tray Special" is a hit at Luna Park San Francisco and Luna Park Los Angeles. Rotating entrees, such as the honey-glazed grilled pork chop with arugula salad and cigar onion rings (regularly $19.50) sell for $10-$12 and are served on blue cafeteria-style trays. Cocktails served in matching blue glassware are $5.

"When the economy slowed down, we did it as an experiment to see if would generate enough incremental business to make it worth it, and it has," says owner A.J. Gilbert. "People weren't spending as much money. They were trying to find deals."

The promotion is offered Monday through Thursday in L.A. and Monday through Friday in the Bay Area. Gilbert says the special has turned into both restaurants' best-selling single item.

"As long as there's a need," he says, "I don't see ending it."