Shoppers Have To Eat, Too


In-store cafes must have been invented for the holidays, when people are too bloody busy buying gifts to leave the store in search of a meal. You can walk straight out of Handbags and into the restaurant without missing a beat.

But look out, shoppers. In the midst of holiday madness, it is dangerously easy to go on impulse-purchase autopilot. And that extends to your food budget as well.

I speak, shamefully, from experience. When a friend and I recently lunched at the Nordstrom Cafe in the Arden Fair mall, we blithely ordered the first two entres that called to us: a Santorini Spinach Salad ($8.95) for me and California Grill sandwich ($9.50) for her. Our Dollar-Wise goal was to come in under $10 each, and in the moment it seemed we were making the mark.

But&emdash;oops!&emdash;that was before we factored in the tax and tip, which toppled us over budget by about $4. How could a penny-pinching pro like me forget about the tip, you ask? Two reasons: One, we didn’t realize there was table service in a restaurant where you order and pay at the counter (go figure), and two, we were in a bit of a rush.

Reason No. 2 is why you need to be extra careful when choosing to dine in-store during the holidays. It’s the most convenient choice, to be sure. But people in a hurry aren’t known for making the wisest decisions&emdash;and ’tis the season for hurrying.

If you keep your wits about you, however, you can walk away with a decent deal at an in-store eatery&emdash;even at the slightly pricey Nordstrom Cafe, where mains range from $8.50 to $10.25. My girlfriend’s California Grill (turkey, bacon, Swiss cheese, avocado, tomato and aioli on sourdough), accompanied by a lovely salad of baby greens, was so hearty it could have easily filled us both. And if you’re really cutting corners, a bowl of soup ($4.50) could suffice.

Budgeting was a little breezier at the Bistro at William Glen (in Town & Country Village at Fulton and Marconi), which is ironic considering the housewares store’s reputation for richness. But if you can waltz past the Waterford and slither by the Swarovski without caving in, you’ll have enough cash for a yummy meal with coinage to spare. Sandwiches start at $6.50 (egg salad) and run as high as $10.95 (Italian club panini), but most are in the $6.95 to $7.95 range, and there are daily specials to boot, such as homemade meat-loaf ($7.95), a decadent-looking mac and cheese with a green salad ($7.49) and soup ($6.95). Although there are tables indoors, I took my turkey/Jack/green apple/cranberry mayo sandwich ($6.95) onto the tranquil outdoor patio. With tax and tip, I escaped for $9&emdash;a whole $1 under budget.

It may not sound like much. But when you’re squirreling away as much as you can for holiday gifts, those extra dollars go a long, long way.

Ho, ho, ho.