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When dining out means reaching out

CONTRARY to expectations, restaurants around L.A. have been seeing an uptick in business since the war with Iraq began last week. Restaurateurs are likening the situation to the weeks after Sept. 11, when neighborhood places were filled with diners looking for a sense of community and social interaction.

“This time as well, people want to be around other people,” said Howard Gordon, senior vice president of marketing at the Cheesecake Factory, where sales have been up.

The story was the same at Michael’s in Santa Monica. “We were packed this weekend,” owner Michael McCarty said. Diners without reservations waited for tables at a bustling-full A.O.C. in the Fairfax district Friday, while Joe’s Restaurant in Venice was fully booked this weekend after a slow January and February, said Joe’s office manager Peg DiBiasi. “With the Academy Awards, people tend to stay home. But we were busy.”

As spring break approaches, and war lingers, McCarty has noted some families canceling travel plans and booking reservations instead. “You watch CNN enough you get a little loony,” McCarty said, “so you have to go out and eat.”

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