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Hollywood Tightens Its Belt

Friday, 6 Mar 2009 | 10:55 AM ET

Its obvious the studios are telling their execs to pull back on expense account spending.

Just look at the crowds — or rather the lack thereof — at some of LA's most popular restaurants.

Once packed weekday hotspots are quiet. Dead quiet. The execs who used to snatch away the bill before it hit the table are now sitting back and waiting for their dining partner to offer. I'm not saying that development execs and agents aren't wining and dining. Yes, they are still lunching at the restaurants on Sunset Plaza and near CAA, the agency powerhouse. But with Sony Pictures Entertainment slashing 300 jobs, on top of layoffs at Universal, Paramount and Warner Brothers, industry players are tightening their belts.

Hollywood restaurants and bars are responding, wisely, with deep discounts. A smart move by the restaurants and telling of the times. Hotspots need constant clientele to stay hot (nothing's more of a turn off than a dead restaurant) so they're ginning up new happy hour menus and discount nights. Barely a day goes by that I don't get an e-mail promoting a new "deal" at a "super-cool" restaurant.

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For over a year the Dolce Group has used discounts during the week to pep up their quieter nights. Each of its half-dozen restaurants and lounges offers its menu half-off one "school night" each week. Its signature restaurant, Dolce, is always packed on it half-off Mondays, and all those clients ordering wine or cocktails (not discounted) make the deal worth it for the kitchen while maintaining the place's "hot" appeal. And the company doesn't promote the discounts, catering mostly to regulars, who want to stay loyal — even in tough times.

Bar 360 on Rodeo Drive — Rodeo Drive! — is offering a $3.60 happy hour. For less than the price of the Sunday New York Times, even an out-of-work actor could indulge in a martini or cosmo. Craft in Century City, sitting in the shadow of CAA (Hollywood's biggest talent agency) is even changing with the times. Visit its terrace and lounge, now called Craftbar, for a full menu of appetizers, pasta and pizza, all for $10 and less.

Swanky Southern California restaurants aren't the only ones making pricey eats affordable.

Carmike Cinemas is launching "Stimulus Tuesdays" discounting concessions to drive business at theaters on weeknights. If you go to any of the 2,300 screens at Carmike's 250 locations, 16 ounce drinks and 46 ounce popcorn buckets are just $1 each. That's a steal compared to the highway robbery concession stands often commit on hungry moviegoers. Movie theaters make huge margins on their popcorn and fountain soda, and it's a crucial part of their business. But I suppose it makes more sense to fill theaters during the week than insist on giant popcorn margins.

Questions? Comments? MediaMoney@cnbc.com

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  • Working from Los Angeles, Boorstin is CNBC's media and entertainment reporter and editor of CNBC.com's Media Money section.