Restaurants struggle as diners spend less

For a nation that loves to eat out, there are cheap eats to be had. But even $5 footlongs and dollar burgers may not be enough to entice recession-era diners.

Confronting declining traffic, rising food prices and the normal winter slowdown, restaurant owners are fighting back -- touting value, slashing prices, running specials, increasing marketing and promoting loyalty clubs -- amid faint hopes of turning a profit.

For many, it's a matter of survival.

"It's like operating in quicksand," said Arthur Gordon, proprietor and chef at Raleigh's Irregardless Cafe, which has been in business since 1974. "As soon as you think you have some solid footing, it seems to dissolve."

Already, there are a growing number of Triangle businesses closing, including two Prime Only steakhouses, Yancy's in downtown Raleigh and the Symposium Cafe in Durham.

Gordon isn't giving up. He kept his restaurant open on Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. He is offering more small plate options, and has resisted raising prices. He offers some live entertainment.

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