By Karen Axelton

restaurant trends salesOne of my strongest memories from the heyday of the dotcom era is being out to dinner at a nice restaurant in San Francisco and seeing a tableful of scruffy, twentysomething guys feasting, with several good bottles of wine sitting empty at their tables.

It wasn’t really a place you expected to see those type of diners, but I slowly realized they were probably dotcom employees (or maybe even entrepreneurs) whose bank accounts looked far better than their attire would suggest.

Those were the days when everyone was spending freely. And while that era isn’t exactly coming back, the restaurant industry is seeing some hopeful signs of a gradual rebound, reports  Midrange restaurant chains like Olive Garden, Cheesecake Factory and B.J.’s are all seeing sales rise slightly after declining during the recession.

“People want to go out and slowly start” to enjoy themselves, Sirio Maccioni, an owner of several independent restaurants, told Bloomberg. Maccioni said his three Las Vegas restaurants are booked every night, but notes that clients are still limiting their spending–for instance, they will order a glass of wine instead of a bottle.

While experts cited by Bloomberg note that consumer spending is still “cautious,” perhaps their sentiments are best expressed by one who says, “We’ve stopped the bleeding.” In today’s economy, that’s a hopeful sign. Now, let’s get that wine flowing again.