Since eating out was one of the first discretionary expenses to go when the recession hit, it's not news that restaurants are seriously struggling -- if they're even still open.
Even mid-level "casual dining" restaurants like Applebee's, Chili's, and The Olive Garden are facing a new threat. As AdAge reports, "as consumers increasingly trade down to fast food, several players such as Wendy's and McDonald's are working to cement their status as the value players" by eating away at their higher-end competition with lower prices. Meantime, some other fast-food places like Burger King and Pizza Hut are "going the other way entirely, marketing higher-end offerings designed to lure the Cheesecake Factory and T.G.I. Friday's faithful."
But while big league ad agencies and marketing executives pitch these kind of business strategies -- it may be Little Leagues who actual rescue mid-level chains, fast food places and local mom-and-pop restaurants from this recession.
As the Rankin Ledger newspaper in Jackson, Mississippi reported this weekend -- youth sports leagues, especially during local tournaments, can - in one weekend - bring in the kind of traffic restaurants need to hang on another quarter or two. "Our parking lot
was full and there's more than one person in those cars," a local restaurant manager reported during a Little League tournament this weekend. "I would say it
has a huge impact."
In fact, the impact youth sports leagues has economically is much wider than just the restaurant business. ""The revenue that's generated off concessions stays in our programs and helps with improvements in our parks," the local Parks & Rec directer says. "We started practice the first week in March, and you know that a parent will say 'while I'm out' or 'let's eat something on the go.'"
Unfortunately, as the Pasadena Star News reports, there has been a drop in membership in youth sports leagues, as parents deem even that kind expense expendable.
But back to the restaurant biz -- there is one behemoth that recognizes the power of Little League and youth sports even during times of recession. McDonald's tells Reuters that it has no plans to cut back on sponsorships during the down economy - especially those involving youth teams at the local level.
"McDonald's is not backing away because it sees sports, whether on a large scale with the Olympics or at the grass-root level with youth programs, as a way to tap into consumers through something they feel passionate about," McDonald's Corporate VP in charge of Global Marketing tells Reuters.
This may be one time when - instead of grimacing when you bring a group of dirty, hungry kids into a restaurant -- those waiters and waitresses will welcome you in with open arms.