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Russians get restaurant-minded, but one in two has never dined out yet

September 24, 2013, 18:24 UTC+3 Alexandrova Lyudmila

MOSCOW, September 24 (Itar-Tass) - Ever more Russians these days develop the habit of dining out. The uptrend was stalled for a while only during the recent crisis years, when restaurants were really desperate for clients. In the meantime, as opinion polls have found out, one in two Russians has never been to a cafe, bar or restaurant yet. First and foremost this is true of elderly people, who never acquired that habit in the Soviet years and who cannot afford to start a new lifestyle now. And, of course, this is true of low-income residents of rural areas.

Nearly half of the urban dwellers who frequent public catering outlets do so for recreation. A bill for two averages 1,500 roubles (an equivalent of 50 dollars), as a recent poll by the national public opinion studies centre VTSIOM has found.

According to the pollster, nearly two-thirds of Russians resident in cities use the services of public catering companies (62%). Men and able-bodied age people account for the bulk of their clientele - 67% and 88% respectively.

What is more, people these days go to cafes, bars or restaurants not just for a meal. Increasingly popular these days are services that make everyday life easier, for instance, those which relieve people of the need to cook at home. As many as 40% of the polled have already tried buying pre-cooked foods for lunch at work or for dinner at home, and one in five (21%) use this service from time to time or frequently.

Dining out is a favourite pastime for one in two urban dwellers (47%). In particular, 25% of the polled visit them once in a while or more often. The bill averages 750 roubles per person. For a family couple a dinner at a restaurant would cost 1,500 roubles. People in Moscow and St. Petersburg and also clients aged 25 to 34 spend on restaurants more than the others - 951 roubles per person and 805 roubles per person respectively.

On weekdays, business lunches are very popular: 46% said they visit cafes or other joints during lunchtime.

At the same time the number of Russians who have never been to a restaurant remains significant: as many as 69% of VTSIOM respondents said they have never ever ordered the delivery of pre-cooked food, 52% have never tasted a business lunch at a restaurant, and 59% have never bought pre-cooked food. Half of the polled acknowledged that they have never been to a cafe, bar, or restaurant.

Russians go to restaurants far less often than Asians or West Europeans. But when they do go out, they wish to have a really good time. So the interior and the atmosphere of the place feature high on the list of priorities.

But the cuisine is the main yardstick. Whereas in the 1990s, when the Iron Curtain fell with the beginning of perestroika, Chinese food was number one hit, its Japanese counterpart took number one place in the 2000s and the word sushi became firmly established in the urban people’s vocabulary. However, the past few years saw another change in eating habits. Now it is European cuisine, Italian first and foremost, that Russia goes out for. And restaurants with a mixed Europe-Caucasus flavour are especially popular. There one finds an exotic blend Italian, Georgian, Azerbaijani, and sometimes Central Asian foods. Russian restaurants proper remain very popular, too, in particular, if they bear a touch of Caucasus traditions.

A recent opinion poll focused on the likes and dislikes of Russian restaurant goers. Taking part in the survey were 15,000 joints in 200 cities with a population of one million or more. The European cuisine is the indisputable leader: 45% of cafes and restaurants offer European dishes, 16% boast a great variety of Russian dishes, and vegetarians are welcome to 7% of all restaurants.

In Moscow and St. Petersburg the number of restaurants has been growing by no less than 20 percent a year.

Moscow is the leader, of course. According to Restcon consultancy, the city has 3,500 restaurants, apart from fast food joints. Public catering outlets in Moscow number some 6,000 and two percent of their owners are showbiz stars or other celebrities.

The Moscow public catering market is estimated by its participants at 1-1.5 billion a year, and its annual growth rate, at 30-40%.

But the leading positions in this line business in Russia, just as elsewhere in the world, belong to fast food eateries, of which McDonald’s is the most popular.

Next there follow medium class restaurants, where one can have lunch for an equivalent of 30-50 dollars.

Beer bars still have a firm foothold. According to restaurant owners, beer bars repay themselves much faster than other theme restaurants. Coffee houses also belong with the category of the most favourite ones. Such little cosy places where it is so nice to have a chat with friends over a cup of coffee are in great demand and still too few in Moscow.

The market of VIP restaurants has been saturated and no active growth should be expected in this segment. True, elite restaurants have retained their clientele, but competition has gotten far tighter. In the top class group French restaurants for true connoisseurs are firmly in the lead, followed by European and Italian ones. In general one should admit that in Moscow one can find representatives of cooking trends from around the world - from Mexico to Tibet and Mongolia.