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Gas prices, tough economy taking bite out of biz

Restaurants are among the most prolific and profitable of small businesses. But a tough economy has taken a bite out of sales for many restaurants in the state, particularly the fine dining establishments.

Higher gasoline prices in recent months could be a factor behind some restaurants in Mississippi finding fewer customers coming out for a good meal, says Michael Cashion, executive director of the Mississippi Restaurant Association.

Cashion said that there has been more impact in upscale dining. He thinks higher gasoline prices recently have had an impact: the consumer’s expendable money has gone for fueling their vehicles, leaving less available for fine dining.

“Casual and family dining has fared better,” Cashion said. “People with two incomes and children are still going to enjoy going out to eat frequently.”

As the summer tourism season approaches, things may look up, Cashion said. Gasoline prices have been trending downwards, and that encourages summer touring.

With more families on the road for vacation, restaurant sales may recoup.

Another factor is consumer confidence. Cashion said that recent studies show that consumer confidence is rebounding, and that should have an impact on bottom-line sales for the state’s eatery.

Phillip Byrd of B’s Hickory BBQ in Oxford, fits the trend for value-oriented restaurants continuing to thrive.

“Sales are very good,” said Byrd. “Our business is holding steady. Of course, we’re two blocks off the Ole Miss campus, so that has a lot to do with it. About 25% of our customers are students and school employees, and 75% is local trade. When there are any events on campus, then our business increases.”

B’s Hickory BBQ has been in business for four years. Great tasting food at affordable prices is the key to success, Byrd said.

“Our business every year has increased,” Byrd said. “I believe it’s because of my products. I’m in a convenience store. It is all takeout. But I have such a good product that the word of mouth reputation has increased my business each year. We have a very competitive price.”

Jeff Good, managing partner of Broad Street Baking Company and Caf

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