PORT WASHINGTON, N.Y. -- Takeout is one segment of the food business that might benefit from war in the Middle East, according to research by The NPD Group.

According to the Port Washington-based research firm, which studies Americans' eating habits, people ordered out more often during the first Gulf War, when they were glued to their televisions and watching coverage of the conflict.

In the winter quarter of 1991 (Dec-Feb.) during the war, carryout traffic jumped nearly 7 percent versus the same time in 1990.

"People want to get information as quickly as possible and the best way to do that is through television," said Harry Balzer, NPD's vice president. "When you're watching TV you're not cooking."

A surge in takeout orders could take some of the sting out of a weak overall market for away-from-home food consumption. In early March, The NPD Group surveyed more than 2,600 households and found that a little more than 40 percent plan to cut back on their spending in both fast-food and full-service restaurants over the next three months.

In addition to war worries, the weak job market, high gas prices and the bear market on Wall Street also are reducing restaurant spending. Lower-income Americans are most likely to tighten up on their overall food budgets, NPD said.

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