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40 bucks here, 30 bucks there . . .

Interesting call yesterday on Midday from a restaurant owner -- or perhaps an employee of one -- who felt our guest, Tribune personal finance columnist Greg Karp, had gone too far in advising listeners of the show to cook at home and stay out of restaurants. That's not exactly what Karp said. He was talking about annual food expenses and how families can reduced them by buying groceries and cooking at home more frequently than has been the case across the nation for the last decade. ("And when you go to the supermarket," Karp said. "Don't buy what you want, buy what's on sale.") In this economy, that's already happening, which is why this restaurateur called.

He sounded a little stressed. He said, "NPR should not be telling people not to go to restaurants." He further said that there were plenty of restaurants around Baltimore that had fixed price menus, and plenty of places where you can eat for "$30 or $40 a person."

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But, I asked, how often did he think people could do that, especially in these inflationary times? Every week?

"Yes."

That left me scratching my head. He could not have had families in mind. He might have been thinking of single couples with double incomes. I don't know many families of four doing $120 to $140 a week in restaurants -- unless they sup in a fast-food place every night.

A few minutes later, this e-mail arrived from WYPR listener Alan Cohen of Glen Burnie: "I totally agree with your reaction to that restaurant-owner who said casually (or cavalierly, as you put it) that 'there are many places you can go out to dinner for $30 or $40 a person.' In my mind, too, that isn't at ALL affordable for many or even most individuals and families! If that attitude is at all representative of restaurant and other business owners and our political leaders, then we have a problem (but I really hope it isn't)!"

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