Restaurants are struggling as families cut back on dining out to save money in a sour economy. Grocery store sales are doing fine, though, as people load up on fixings for meals at home. Is the neglected art of home cooking in for a renaissance?

How badly are restaurants doing?
They’re holding on—barely. Restaurant outings fell 3 percent in 2008 from the previous year, according to market researcher NPD Group. Worse still, visits by young adults ages 18 to 24—the most lucrative restaurant market—fell by 8 percent. (The Boston Globe) P.F. Chang’s China Bistro reported that same-store sales at its restaurants fell by 7.1 percent in the fourth quarter of 2008. So people are eating more at home, but that doesn’t mean they’re settling for TV dinners. (The Wall Street Journal)

How’s that?
In the last recession, families cut back by foregoing restaurants, and buying frozen meals at the grocery store. But this time people are buying ingredients and cooking from scratch rather than buying ready-made meals, said food industry consultant Dr. Liz Sloan of Sloan Trends. “We have the highest level of in-home cooking in the United States since 1992.” (New Orleans Times Picayune)

Are they cooking budget meals?
Not necessarily. Remember, this is a nation where 2.9 million foodies tune in to each episode of Bravo’s “Top Chef.” Many people accustomed to dining out frequently are pumping the savings into better cookware, even cooking classes. Revenue at New York’s Institute of Culinary Education jumped by 15 percent in the last year as the economy tanked. (The Boston Globe) Non-credit culinary class enrollment jumped by 10 percent last year at Schoolcraft College in Livonia, Mich. (Hattiesburg American)

So does that mean a new era of gourmet home cooking?
Much as they would like, many families will eventually have to settle for simple home cooking. Consumer spending on food is inching down as people trade down to lower-priced ingredients. And, according to AllianceBernstein economist Joseph Carson, another reason spending is down is that families have been raiding their own cupboards to avoid trips to the store. “You can't contract at this rate for long," Carson said. "It's just shocking." (The Wall Street Journal)