My new barometer of the health of the economy is local restaurant chains. It used to be musicians, but they're always broke even when we aren't headed for a recession, so local businesses are a bit more reliable gauge.
On Saturday, my husband suggested that we have an early supper at our favorite pizza place. It's where we go to get giant pizzas for special occasions and huge slices for everyday meals.
I'll start by saying that there had been hints for a while that not all was well with this chain. Like the time I was surprised at my final bill when I went to pick up a pizza because they had significantly raised their prices without changing their website. On that occasion, the cashier gave me a discount and said that the employees were all rather sour about the whole thing.
Then there was the time we went to another location for dinner only to find the doors locked early because they'd "run out of pizza."
So I guess we shouldn't have been too surprised when we placed our order on Saturday, sat down at a booth with our drinks, and chatted until it occurred to us that we'd been waiting for well over 30 minutes with no sign of food. A little eavesdropping indicated that we weren't alone - in fact, the other patrons were getting downright mutinous.
There were three employees working and they were somehow incapable of placing toppings on pre-made pizza slices, putting them in the oven and getting them to the customers in a timely fashion. The guy behind me demanded his money back and left. He wasn't the only one.
I spotted what looked like my pizza slice on the counter and claimed it before it got away. I asked about my husband's slice and the guy said, "It should be in the oven."
That was just as bad as it sounded. While I ate my pizza, my husband made himself a fixture next to the pickup counter. The employees hinted at problems with getting paid and mentioned that people were walking off the job daily.
Finally, my husband ended up taking the slice of pizza left behind by the guy who had been sitting behind us. It wasn't what he wanted, but it was better than going home hungry.
I hope this doesn't mean that we're about to lose our favorite pizza places, but it sure sounds that way. I guess I'd better start looking for someplace new, just in case.