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Frustrated!!!!

post #1 of 19
Thread Starter 

I started my own restaurant last August. It has generated a lot of buzz in my local area and has terrific reviews, so all is good right? Nope. Valentines week was pretty good...last week...crappy...this week is off to an even worse start. First two weeks of January were really bad too.

 

I am really fed up that people enjoy the menu and environment, but I can't do enough business to keep it open and pay my basic liabilities. I don't have a ton of money to put into radio or other media right now. I've done some trades for advertising, but really nothing has been all that great. I hear my regulars keep telling me "we hope that you stay open" but then they order the specials and pay with a coupon or they only come once every three weeks or so. Or my "facebook" friends who kept telling me to open a restaurant...and haven't been in once. Again the restaurant has been well received in our reviews and has great reviews on Yelp, Urbanspoon, Trip Advisor and etc.

 

I'm out of ideas and really haven't been this disappointed ever...ugh.

post #2 of 19
Sounds like your in your down season.
post #3 of 19

First thing to figure out is whether the market you are in has a demand for the restaurant you opened up at the price you charge. Great reviews and low traffic are usually an indicator of a great concept placed in the wrong market. Of course, owners have a habit of only listening to the good reviews and convincing themselves that their food is better than it is. Not knocking your food, just stating what I often see.

 

Did you do any market research to judge the demand for your concept before you opened? How do you know that people who live, work and shop in a 1-3 mile radius of the restaurant really want what you have to offer at the price you are charging for it? If you haven't done this, you aren't ready to move on to the next steps. There is nothing more frustrating than spending a lot of time and busting your hump marketing a restaurant that there just is not a big enough market for.


Edited by Brandon ODell - 2/25/13 at 10:13pm

Brandon O'Dell

 

Friend That Cooks Home Chef Service

www.friendthatcooks.com

O'Dell Restaurant Consulting

www.bodellconsulting.com

 

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Brandon O'Dell

 

Friend That Cooks Home Chef Service

www.friendthatcooks.com

O'Dell Restaurant Consulting

www.bodellconsulting.com

 

Reply
post #4 of 19
Thread Starter 

My Sysco Rep and several beer/wine reps have stated other restaurants are slow. I did a bit of market research and I'm in the highest demographic (avg income per household and number of house holds) without a single like concept within 5 miles. But there probably I could have done more for certain. I saw an opportunity (reasonable rent and somewhat upfitted location) so I leapt maybe a little too quickly.

 

I do know the food is innovative and pretty kickass, but I am a realist at the same time and understand there is room for improvement. I am a bit of perfectionist. I had a business partner who wasn't and he recently exited the business. So I do a lot of self evaluation about the food and pricing. My problem is I don't want to settle for providing lessor food than what we're doing now. Lowering prices? Discounts? Will it fill seats? Will it train my customers to only eat here with a discount and not pay full price? I don't know. Would love more feedback and opinions.

post #5 of 19
Thread Starter 

Possibly. But this isn't a touristy location. I'm smack dap in the middle of residential neighborhoods.

post #6 of 19

Maybe it's not the price point that is the problem, but the type of items on the menu. Doing research in a residential area is pretty easy if there is a good amount of foot traffic anywhere near the restaurant. It takes nothing more than choosing 3-5 pointed questions to gather information. In your case, you might make a list of popular types of restaurants and ask people on the street which one they would be most likely to eat at. Then ask them which one they can't find in the area. This will help you judge the demand for not only your concept, but whatever your concept could be.

 

A great location has to be paired with the right concept to make money. It doesn't matter how good the food is if it isn't the kind of food the market wants. Find out what they want so you can either change your concept or decide to focus on marketing it as it is.

Brandon O'Dell

 

Friend That Cooks Home Chef Service

www.friendthatcooks.com

O'Dell Restaurant Consulting

www.bodellconsulting.com

 

Reply

Brandon O'Dell

 

Friend That Cooks Home Chef Service

www.friendthatcooks.com

O'Dell Restaurant Consulting

www.bodellconsulting.com

 

Reply
post #7 of 19

Most people today are trying to stretch or get the most for there scass dollars. and are eating out less, eating home more >That why supermarts are selling dinners and premade food  and convience foods

CHEFED
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CHEFED
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post #8 of 19

I'm going to assume you are a "modern fine dining" type establishment.  Now is the time you take a good hard look at the menu, yourself, and the business.  Frankly, being in a residential neighborhood stinks for upper end restaurants.  Nobody is going to get a babysitter at the spur of the moment and visit your place on a Wednesday night.  One kid has swimming, the other has basketball, no way.  They are getting pizza.  Yes, you did well for VD, but that was a special occasion.  It is February now and most restaurants are just trying to survive.

 

So sitting here, just off the top of my head, if the above were true, I would try to boost my takeout business.  I would try and make it family friendly with good portion sizes.  I would look at your local Village Inn Pizza and see what they are doing and try to do it better.  Stuff like that.

 

Now is the time for you to control your costs and get your inventory levels down.  You have to force yourself to do it.  If you sold $1k last week you cannot order $500 this week.

 

Just a thought.  I hope it works out for you.

post #9 of 19

I see that you mentioned coupons.. I don't have the experience of ownership but I am a consumer and to me, coupons scream mediocre and desperation. I consider them in the same boat as the neon signs and banners that scream YES WE"RE OPEN, advertising signs stuck into the grass on the front lawn saying what items are on the menu.. I avoid these places because if they need to be so forceful to get people into the door there's gotta be a reason for it. Word of mouth and good dining experiences keep people coming back.

 

As an aside, IMO your waitstaff can make or break a place.. They have the most often interaction with the customer, check out the thread on 'What does a server do to make you mad' (or something like that) and assess yours.

 

I applaud your courage to make the leap, I hope to as well one day. May prosperity find you :)

post #10 of 19

I understand your frustration, been there, and have the t-shirt(s)

 

Like Laurenlulu, I picked up on the coupons right away.  Please, please, pretty please stay away from them!  If you know of a bakery that has items heavily discounted at 6 pm, you know that customers are "trained" to wait for this.  If you offer coupons, the type of customer this attracts will only come if there is a discount.

 

Feb. is a cruel harsh month.  Christmas is looong gone, Visa bills are due, around here Canada Revenue (Income tax) comes knocking, and the weather is so (deleted) that no ones wants to go out

...."This whole reality thing is really not what I expected it would be"......
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...."This whole reality thing is really not what I expected it would be"......
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post #11 of 19

I'm in a similar situation, the difference being that my restaurant is in a touristy region, with the main season being from May to October. Now, at the tail end of winter I'm struggling to pay the bills. This is only my second winter with this restaurant, which is without any competition within a 30-mile radius. I had been aware of the wide seasonal fluctuations when I opened, but am quite surprised just how little interest the local population in this very rural region shows in seasonal, regional, "farm to table" food. So the summer season is where we have to try even harder than before, attempting to attract more passing tourist trade. We have hit a dead stop on the upper limit of our pricing, so I will attempt to gear the lunch and afternoon menu more towards "gourmet fast food" while keeping the evening menu largely as it is, as it is quite popular among more food-conscious city day trippers.

 

Of course, just like the OP, I'll be all ears for any outside opinions and ideas! :-)

 

Cheers,

Recky
 

post #12 of 19
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Recky View Post

I'm in a similar situation, the difference being that my restaurant is in a touristy region, with the main season being from May to October. Now, at the tail end of winter I'm struggling to pay the bills. This is only my second winter with this restaurant, which is without any competition within a 30-mile radius. I had been aware of the wide seasonal fluctuations when I opened, but am quite surprised just how little interest the local population in this very rural region shows in seasonal, regional, "farm to table" food. So the summer season is where we have to try even harder than before, attempting to attract more passing tourist trade. We have hit a dead stop on the upper limit of our pricing, so I will attempt to gear the lunch and afternoon menu more towards "gourmet fast food" while keeping the evening menu largely as it is, as it is quite popular among more food-conscious city day trippers.

 

Of course, just like the OP, I'll be all ears for any outside opinions and ideas! :-)

 

Cheers,

Recky
 

I took a similar tack with our lunch. Offering $10 sushi lunch combo with a salad and drink...zero to minimal interest. I knew lunches would be a challenge, but a quite few regulars kept asking me to do them...and then only a smaller sample of those said customers came in. I decided to scrap the lunches til summer. I definitely need to ramp up our take out business. Any suggestions what are good avenues to do this?

post #13 of 19

Not knowing exactly what type of food you do and whether you're in a big city or small town, it's difficult to come up with suggestions. If the residential area you're in is fairly large, a gourmet takeaway line might be a good idea, provided your food lends itself to it. If it's Asian (you mentioned sushi) it should be fairly straight forward. I'd then definitely market it as "gourmet" takeaway food, consider a delivery service. Have menu flyers printed up, staple them to your in-house customers' guest checks, get a few students to put them through people's letter boxes. Do not forget to mention that the takeaway food comes from a "proper" restaurant. If there's a farmers' market in the neighbourhood, consider setting up a small stall selling your stuff and handing out flyers, etc.

 

Cheers,

Recky
 

post #14 of 19

Residential neighborhoods are much harder to operate a restaurant out of, but i'm guessing you have figured this out.

Are you just a sushi place or do you do other food?  This will help with future advice.

 

Here are a few general tips:

 

To increase lunch sales - you have to market to those in your area most likely to eat out for lunch.   That is not going to be the neighborhood's residents, they are all at school / daycare / work, your customers for lunch are going to be those that work in the area.   Think police outreach centers, fire halls, day care centers, recreation facility workers, city offices, city maintenance properties, home business, medical clinics, school teachers and general shopping stores.   These people will only have 30-60 minutes for lunch and don't want to travel for most of that time.   Target your flyers and advertising to them.   Make call-ahead and pickup lunches available.  Make gourmet bagged lunches / platters etc. don't make them wade through a huge list of available options.  4-5 combos is enough but make them interesting and also offer an office combo something that serves 6-10 people that workers can buy to treat the office on a whim.  

 

Find out who the predominant employer in your residential area is - then approach them about specials or even bringing bagged food from the restaurant to their workplace.  BENTO BOXES! you could make a killing by offering these to your local neighborhood workers.  You'll want to talk to the HR people or VP etc.   Make it a no loss situation for them.  Take a decent amount of food - but you should expect to run out - this way there is no waste for you, also have a method for those that missed out on your gourmet food to 'pre-order' next time.  The pre-order increases the accuracy of how much you need to prepare and makes the customer feels special.  Don't do everything a'la carte... too many options - make a few themed choices and most will buy them.  Don't ever refuse a'la carte or special orders just make it simple for those new to sushi.

 

Be flexible with the food you offer - sushi might be a hard sell depending on the demographics of your area.   Offer alternatives that fit into the same niche you're trying to fill.  ie. more makizushi - chirashizushi - tempura - pickled foods - milk toast sandwiches - rice bowls with simple sweet and sour or tonkatsu proteins.  

 

Don't expect people to know or understand sushi - make things simple for them.   Offer family sampler platters, individual combo's and dinner for 3, 4, 5 or 6 menu's. 

 

For evening meals - you need to make yourself 'a destination' ensure ample parking (make a deal with a local lot or pay for the meters... one place I worked at we sent the bus-boy out to plug change into the meters in front of our place every 2 hours... then advertised it's always free parking in front of the place).

 

Quick service, these rich demographic types you refer too are also the busiest they have a billion lessons / groups / events etc.  either take-out or eat in it has to be fast... this works in your favor as you can turn tables faster.   In the door - drinks in 1 minute after seating (if they can't decide that fast put water down and come back), apps in 5, food in 15 and out the door in 30-40.  Advertise it as such - quick, wholesome, gourmet, upscale, farm-to-table, sustainable, fresh, organic, and yummy food for your family in less than 3/4 of an hour!  

 

Your focus should be on the neighborhood residents on Fri-Sat-Sun... other days the focus should be on the workers in your area.  Find out when the predominant work-force gets off work, then make a "take-it-home" with you special for them for evening meals.

 

One last thing - advertising directly to 'families' seldom works... forget about flyers in their mail box etc.

Families go out to dinner based on word of mouth - personal recommendations - these are made from friends that they have at .... work / school / playgroups / lessons.

 

Rather than putting a few hundred flyers in the mail-boxes of those that live in the neighborhood - put those flyers into the places that they work / school / play etc.

Most home flyers end up being floor covering around the cat litter box - that is if they are opened out flat.   Often they go unread straight to the trash.

 

I have more advice but this post is long enough and I need more information from you!

  

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"Plus, this method makes you look like a complete lunatic. If you care about that sort of thing".  - Dave Arnold

 

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"Plus, this method makes you look like a complete lunatic. If you care about that sort of thing".  - Dave Arnold

 

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post #15 of 19
Thread Starter 

My restaurant is a sushi restaurant. I have an Asian influenced kitchen "hot" menu, but do other foods like ceviche, poke and tartare. I really like the bento box idea for take out and delivery (to local employers).

post #16 of 19

Major metropolitan area?  Close to downtown?  Thousands of people work in offices withing 5 minutes?

post #17 of 19

We had a down period during January/March - the after Christmas slow down where we had to cut back staff hour.

 

I had one of my staff take a whack of pizzas and take-out menus and deliver them to all the car dealerships which were within our territory. The result was a 100% increase in our weekend sales beginning the following week and almost all of these dealerships have continued to order, not only on weekends but also on weekdays as well as having us cater their special events throughout the year.

 

You may have done something similar but if you haven't it might be worth trying with some of the larger businesses in your area.

post #18 of 19

everyone has posted some great advice. Here is my two cents. 

You only began last August, not even a year yet. As was mentioned, these are tough months. Don't lose hope just yet. 

1. Coupons from Groupon, etc. are bad. Coupons are only good if you get to set the discount. A free beverage with X sales. Or a free app with three entrees. Do not let the coupon company set the discount. All those two for one deals kill restaurants and attract the wrong customers. 

2. Do not trust Sysco or any other supplier to give you the best prices without verifying the prices at other locations like the local grocery and large price clubs as well as other suppliers. From experience-Vinegar from grocery store-$2.29 gallon Vinegar from Sysco $18 per case of 4 gallons. That is only one example of many I discovered at our place after taking over purchasing duties. Despite repeated complaints and after years of customer loyalty, Sysco would not budge. 

3. As MIchaelGA noted, who is in your area at what time of the day? Perhaps dinner only hours are best for you if everyone is away during the day. You scrapped lunches until summer despite mediocre response from people requesting lunch. Good for you. Profitable open hours are more important than just being open. 

4. Passing out menus is important. Despite the good reviews you get, do not assume people next door even know you exist. It is human nature to get into routines/ruts and become myopic. You may have neighbors of all kinds whose lives do not send them in your direction despite being only a block or two away. 

5. Do not reduce quality for any reason. If you are charging an appropriate price for the food you serve and you are providing excellent customer service, that is what people will remember. There are always price grumps who look for discounts no matter what you charge. Ignore them. 

6. Review the obvious. Is your place visible? Easy to get in to?  When you are open, is it obvious to casual passersby that you are open? 

7. I do not like advertising in newspapers, tv or radio for a small business. Word of mouth is best. Ads are expensive and you need to get a lot of customers back from the advertisement just to recoup your expense. Good food and service and passing out menus is inexpensive and gives good response for the money. 

8. Don't give up. It's tough. It takes awhile to put it all together and figure out what is best for you. Keep reviewing ALL of your costs and the experience your customers are having so you can continually make improvements, however small they may seem. The economy sucks right now so don't put all the blame on yourself. Just keep working at it. 

post #19 of 19
Thread Starter 

Okay, so it's been several months since I started this topic. Here's an update, while we're not out of the woods as of yet, we have seen an overall improvement in our sales. I've cut all coupons aside from a local attractions book, which has a minimum spend of $30. We have really been working on cost controls such as labor and food. As someone mentioned buying from the big guys (US FOODS, SYSCO and etc) is not always the best. We have found local sources for pork and seafood to offer the best pricing and locally raised, fished and etc.

 

Handing out menus to local neighborhoods and businesses has been our best way to advertise. I've done much of this myself, but I am looking into having my dishwasher and some other employees do it. We also have been doing live music (softer acoustic) which has generated a lot of buzz and added many new faces that are fans of the musical talent we have brought in.

 

Next week we celebrate our 1st Anniversary...something I was beginning to doubt we would make. Nothing replaces hardwork in this business.

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