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Eateries seek boost by staying open on holidays

In the midst of one of the restaurant industry’s worst downturns, thousands of restaurants nationwide will do something on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day or New Year’s Day that they’ve never done before: open the doors.

While consumers are used to some chains like Denny’s and IHOP keeping units open on Christmas, it’s been rare for most restaurants – from burger joints to those with white tablecloths – to stay open on Christmas Eve and Christmas.

This year is an exception. After a terrible 2008, there is growing sentiment to keep the doors open on Christmas. “It makes perfect sense,” says Hudson Riehle, senior vice president at the National Restaurant Association. “This is the toughest environment since the early 1980s.”

The NRA projects that restaurant sales nationally will grow an anemic 2.5 percent in 2009. Adjusted for inflation, sales will actually decline 1 percent, says Riehle.

Many restaurant owners will stay open over the holidays. Here’s why:

• To nudge sales. Mitchell’s Fish Market, which has 19 locations in nine states, will for the first time open all units on New Year’s Day. “It will provide additional revenue given today’s challenging times,” says Tom Burmane, operations vice president.

Atlanta’s Parish Foods & Goods will be open Christmas Eve and New Year’s Day. “We want to capture sales that we didn’t think would be there,” says Sean Gray, general manager.

In Raleigh, N.C., Irregardless Cafe will be open Christmas Eve and Christmas. “We’re looking for the holiday to give us a boost,” says owner Arthur Gordon. Business is off 20 percent this year and he expects a 20 percent drop in 2009.

To pick up extra sales, Mom’s Hamburgers, a 24-year-old burger joint in Mansfield, Ohio, will be open Christmas Eve for the first time, says owner Steve Reed.

• To make up for a lousy year. For the past 12 years, the Payard Bistro in Manhattan has never been open Christmas Eve. It will be this year, with a $45 meal that would sell for $65. “Every restaurant is down 20 percent to 30 percent this year,” says owner Francois Payard. “This will put a lot of people through the door.”

• To meet demand. Crab Landing Seafood & Steakhouse in Half Moon Bay, Calif., is one month old. Owner Andrei Soen says there’s demand since “a lot of people want to check out a new restaurant.” It will be open Christmas and New Year’s Day.

Fenicci’s of Hershey, of Hershey, Pa., has never been open on Christmas. It will this year, says owner Phil Guarno, “because the area demands it.”

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