Philadelphia Steakhouses Competition

We sent our reporter to find out how the members of the city's suddenly crowded steakhouse field are doing in the face of the rough economy — and each other

Steakhouses in the city are facing two potential business-killing problems: Not only are the pricey (and expense account-reliant) restaurants taking a hit because of the economy, but they also have more competition then ever. We here at the Restaurant Club often get asked how the restaurants are surviving, so we decided to see for ourselves by sending a reporter (on his bike) to Union Trust, Del Frisco’s, Capital Grille, and Butcher & Singer last Thursday between the hours of 7:30 and 8:30 to take a quick look. Here are his findings.

[sidebar]Union Trust
Time: 7:30 p.m.
Approximate Table Count: 50
Empty Tables: 25. The spacious design of the room made it feel very empty.
Bar Scene: Full, but not lively. The upstairs bar was about half full. The bartenders weren’t that busy, and there didn’t seem to be high demand from the waiters. My bartender told me that they were slower than usual because of March Madness.
Our Take: March Madness? Eh, maybe, maybe not. Regardless, the dramatic open room, with its great bright lighting, sadly emphasized the deserted feeling, even though it’s so pretty.

Capital Grille
Time: 8 p.m.
Approximate Table Count: 53
Empty Tables: 6. And given the considerably tighter feel and low lighting, it felt absolutely packed.
Bar Scene: The bartenders were busy.
Our Take: Location, location, location. Capital Grille has a prime location on Chestnut and Broad, right near many of the theaters and transportation, and is smaller.

Del Frisco’s
Time: 8:15 p.m.
Approximate Table Count: 54
Empty Tables: 30. Many of them were large tables — I counted at least four tables pre-set for six or more.
Bar Scene: The downstairs bar was full (and we’ll note that it is huge), but the upstairs one was half empty. The bartender told me that this was on the slow side of normal. Given the giant space and surgical lighting reminiscent of an airport lounge, the restaurant felt pretty empty.
Our Take: We were surprised to find this new it-spot for City Council members half empty, as we’ve been hearing reports on how crowded it’s been (okay, maybe it did have something to do with March Madness).

Butcher & Singer
Time: 8:25 p.m.
Approximate Table Count: 40
Empty Tables: 6
Bar Scene: Active, with a few people waiting for tables. The space is set up right, with high ceilings and low lighting actually making the place feel romantic and intimate. The bartender told me they had 110 reservations on the books, but wound up serving more guests than that.
Our Take: Butcher & Singer seems to be faring well.