The Zagats' BATH Restaurants

In this Sept. 15, 2007 file photo Natalya Estemirova, a human rights activist, seen in the Chechen capital, Grozny, southern Russia. Natalya Estemirova, a prominent human rights advocate, was kidnapped and killed in Chechnya Wednesday July 15, 2009. Her body with gunshot wounds was found in the neighboring region of Ingushetia.
"BATH" restaurants, an acronym for Better Alternative Than Home, are the kinds of restaurants throughout the country that offer comfort food and are less expensive than eating at home. Tim and Nina Zagat visit The Early Show to talk about them and offer some examples across the country.

The three characteristics that a restaurant must have to be considered a BATH restaurant are:

  1. Inexpensive
  2. Casual - Almost like a home away from home, you can watch TV there, take off your jacket and tie.
  3. Serve homey, hearty food - a cut above fast food and you don't feel like you're endangering your family by eating there every day. And you want to eat there on a daily basis.

These restaurants are, by and large, the kind of places that the press doesn't focus on because they're not individually famous chefs or very fancy places.

They're usually neighborhood places and fairly simple, but they've all been focusing on having good value. For people who have jobs and busy lives and don't have the time to cook, or for those that have closet-sized kitchens or people who don't like cooking except on weekends, these places are more efficient than cooking dinner yourself.

These BATH restaurants come in every kind of ethnic restaurant, from little bistros to upscale diners. They're all providing diners with food that they buy wholesale and cook better than you could, and it's cheaper or competitive to supermarket prices.

If you were trying to cook the same meal at home, you couldn't for the same price, and it wouldn't be as good, the Zagats explain. They're feeding you in a good way for a very low price, and they've been so successful at it that it's become the biggest growth area of the restaurant industry for a long time.

Despite the recession and weak economy, people are still going out to eat frequently at these places, according to a 2002 survey. New York surveyors report that 62 percent of their weekly lunches and dinners came from a combination of restaurant and take-out kitchens, a 6 percent increase over last year. This degree of outside food preparation tops any city covered by Zagat. Overall, the 2002 Survey reflects a staggering 5.6 million restaurant visits, or 15,400 meals out per day across NY. Put another way, the average restaurant was visited 2,800 times per year.

In addition to the individual BATH restaurants, there are also a lot of chains that are aiming at exactly that market - focusing in on children and parents after work. And they're trying to do it by having good food that is a cut above something like KFC. They offer a substantial meal - salad, main course with meat and dessert. Some do it with an Italian flavor (like Olive Garden) and some do it with an American flavor (like Boston Market).

Some chains that fall into the BATH category:
Luby's Cafeteria
Boston Market
Olive Garden
Walker Bros. Pancake House
Red Lobster (but this is a tad more pricey)

There is an industry term for these kinds of restaurants - Home Meal Replacement.