I'm well into my forth year of operating and cheffing at my small "seasonal & regional" restaurant in a day trip, cycling and hiking tourist destination, a village that gets busy to extremely busy from April to October and quiet from November to March. Business has steadily grown since we started, and it's likely to increase further. We've also worked hard to attract the locals in order to make it through the slow periods, increasingly successfully, too.
The first two and a half years we opened our doors from noon till 10 pm, six days a week, with all the usual ramifications - no private life, 12-16-hour working days, the lot, regardless of whether or not we were making money during some of those hours. Doing what everybody else is doing was the order of the day. After a bit of a burn-out threat, it dawned on me that maybe I should reconsider our business hours, for both health and financial reasons. I reviewed the figures as well as the subjective "feel" for which hours and days were worth our while and which were not. I found that our food was "evening food"; the vast majority of tourist round here tend to go for quick snacks round lunchtime, and there is plenty of competition in that field.
After a lot of humming and harring, I eventually decided to drastically cut our business hours: We stayed closed for weekday lunch and afternoon services, and in the winter season we introduced a second day off (Mondays and Tuesdays). I also started closing the kitchen at 9 pm.
So now we're open 5:30 to 9 pm (we won't kick people out, but we rarely work past 9:30) every day except days off, as well as Saturday and Sunday lunches, 12 to 2:30. On summer weekends we will often keep cooking all afternoon, occasionally closing the kitchen for 30 minutes before evening service starts to get our mise ready.
I was extremely hesitant to do this as every other food outlet in the area is putting in all the hours one is "supposed" to do as a restaurant in a tourist region, on the off-chance that a group of hikers may drop in, or for the three customers per month that might get the munchies after 9 pm. To my great surprise and relief, business has since kept growing, as well as our net profit!
With hindsight this all seems common sense now, but for much too long I was in the treadmill that many of my colleagues in the region don't seem to even realise - demonstrating presence and burning money doing it.
Has anyone else experienced something like that? Been "brave" enough to steer off the beaten track and focussing on shorter, yet quality, service hours? And as a result, improved food quality, inspiration (for want of a better word) and work-life balance?
I started this restaurant with a sound, interesting and unique (to the region) concept but ended up with tunnel vision. Having implemented those changes I feel a lot better and more successful. Not that I'm getting rich - that's hardly gonna happen with a small restaurant business - but I feel a lot more content now. And the figures bear this out.