Owning and operating a restaurant in Buenos Aires is no longer an attractive business model for the hundreds of Capital Federal restaurateurs who closed their doors for good in the past twelve months.

The Middle Class Slashes Spending and Restaurant Closings Multiply is the headline of Alfredo Sainz’s detailed analysis in La Nacion which paints a culinary cautionary tale for aspiring Buenos Aires restaurant owners across all categories of fare and spending.

According to the city’s Division of Statistics & Census, Buenos Aires restaurant sales dropped 19% in the last quarter of 2013 and 12% in the first quarter of 2014 compared to those same quarters in the previous year.

The president of the Hotel & Restaurant Business Federation, Roberto Brunello, paints an even bleaker picture of the number of establishments lowering the persianas: “There are reports that say more than 350 restaurants closed in the last year in Buenos Aires. And, although there are some openings, it’s clear the number of restaurants closing are much greater than those opening.”

The hardest hit segments include tenedor libre (all-you-can-eat) restaurants, parrillas, one-offs that have little leverage with suppliers or the support of a global franchise, hotel restaurants, and labor-intensive restaurants with excessive kitchen and wait staffs.  The latter explains the recent boom in Buenos Aires restaurants without waiters, says Martin Blanco, the director of Moebius Marketing.

Beyond government data, Sainz says a stroll through the city’s main dining districts is the only proof one needs of the gastro-exodus. He points to Experiencia del Fin del Mundo in Palermo, Luicana in Belgrano and La Zaranda in Villa Urquiza as examples of once-popular restos that closed within the past year.

“The middle class is controlling their spending and unfortunately gastronomy is among the first things they drop in these situations,” says Brunello. His words are backed by the Pulso Social 2014 study where Buenos Aires families were asked about the first thing they would drop from their budgets: 14% said dining out which ranked second behind vacations (18%).

With more BA belt-tightening on the horizon, expect to see more full-service Buenos Aires restaurants closings and more Subways, Wendy’s and Kentucky pizzerias taking their place. (Full Story in Spanish)

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