Mom trumps a recession.
That's what some Northern San Joaquin Valley restaurants report, with reservations as strong as ever for Mother's Day despite consumer worries and tough economic times.
Rafael Sakellariou, manager at Modesto's Galletto Ristorante, said he expects a record day Sunday.
"I know that's the opposite of what's going on in the nation, but maybe Modesto is coming out of the downturn," said Sakellariou, who said 400 people have made reservations for Sunday as of midday Thursday.
In Oakdale, a worker at The House of Beef said the restaurant's normal Saturday Mother's Day event also looks as if it will be as popular as ever.
"I'm talking with people making reservations, and I think when it comes to Mother's Day, people will pull out all the stops," said Sandi Hall. "They want to make mom happy."
At other restaurants across the nation, there is less cheery news.
A few days before Mother's Day, Robert Jenkins jumps every time the phone rings.
He's got about 220 reservations at his Cajun-style restaurant, Bayou, for brunch Sunday. Last year, he had 300 reservations, but with the economy sagging, business is down.
Like many in the industry, he believes love for mom will trump fears about the economy. So when the phone rings this week, he's hoping it's someone booking a spot in his 115-seat dining room in Milwaukee overlooking the river.
"You have high expectations and this is one of those markers that you have that you need to perform well on," said Jenkins, who owns the restaurant with his brother.
Mother's Day is the restaurant industry's busiest day. If the holiday doesn't go well, profits could be hurt for the rest of the year in what's been a tough environment.
Though Americans are projected to spend more than $1.5 billion a day this year at restaurants, many are pulling back in the wake of rising gas and food prices and shaky job markets.
Americans spend nearly half their annual food budgets in restaurants, says the National Restaurant Association, which has 380,000 members. Sales are expected to hit $558 billion this year, but the growth rate is slowing. This year they're predicted to grow 4.4 percent from 2007. That's slower than the 2007 growth of 4.6 percent and 2006's rate of 4.7 percent.
Flower sales wilting?
Other businesses that get a big part of their sales from Mother's Day said they're seeing an impact.
Alma Ochoa-Ramirez said her flower store is noticeably less busy than a year ago.
"As far as Mother's Day goes, I'm still waiting for it to start," said Ochoa-Ramirez, of Flowers From the Heart in Modesto. "Normally, by now I'm swamped."
She said she's also noticed that more customers have opted to pick up flowers from her shop, rather than pay a $10 delivery charge.
But another Modesto flower shop reported typically strong Mother's Day sales.
At Modesto Flowers & Gifts.com, owner Gabriel Padilla said he believes customers might spend less for Valentine's Day, but not when it comes to mom.
"You've got to do something for mom," Padilla said.
He pointed out that floral arrangements for Mother's Day often have a a mix of flowers, so they're less expensive than the dozen roses often favored on Valentine's Day.
Housing slump hurts eateries
Areas hard hit by the housing crisis and job losses, such as Michigan and Ohio, are bracing for slower sales than the national average.
And business owners across the country, especially restaurateurs, are trimming their costs -- coming up with smaller, less-expensive menu options to keep customers coming in.
While they're raising the prices of certain items, such as beef and grouper, they're offering less-expensive items such as buffalo meat and catfish and even using butter blends rather than pure butter.
Jenkins, the restaurant owner in Milwaukee, says business is off about 20 percent this year. He's thinking of everything he can to bring customers in.
So Sunday, he's giving 10 percent off to all moms on such dishes as chicken and waffles and eggs sardou, which mixes shrimp, creamed spinach and hollandaise sauce. He's also giving mixed carnations to the first 100 mothers. Last year, though, he offered the more expensive Hawaiian orchid.
"We're trying every little niche we can without giving away the restaurant to get people here," Jenkins said.
Bee staff writer Ben van der Meer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2331.