If you follow the restaurant scene at all, you know that over the past two years restaurants have been closing all over Polk County, and all over the country for that matter. Quiznos, Fazoli's, Shells, Lone Star Steakhouse, Bennigan's, Steak n' Ale, Sam Seltzer's, and Road House Grill are just a few of the restaurants that we've seen extinguished by this unforgiving economic climate. The truth is that this is a tough time for restaurants and we'll see more close their doors before we pull through this recession.
The restaurant business is competitive and start-ups are prone to failure. Let me put this in perspective. I recently met with a banker to discuss my options with regard to financing a second location. Our first location was started with no debt so this was a new arena for me. The loan officer explained to me that there were two industries that bank tended to avoid when lending to small businesses: restaurants and porn. It's just plain risky business.
Over the next few years you should expect to see some major changes in your favorite eateries. We all have to change to adapt, but we will all use different strategies. Some restaurants will drop prices significantly to re-position themselves as value brands. People are strapped for cash and are looking for value. With that drop in price you should expect to see a significant drop in the quality of the ingredients or the size of the portion in your favorite menu items. Other restaurants will cut staff to run leaner. If you think it's tough to find good service now, just wait. Still some restaurants will pass on the rising cost of doing business directly to the customer. I visit Crisper's frequently to check up on the competition. A sign posted in the entry to the restaurant advertised their new menu, "Now with 20 items under $5" ... or something along those lines. I thought, "Wow. How can they manage that?" Here's how- they dropped their "Pick a Pair" option and made everything al a carte in half size portions. I bought a small salad, a half flatbread, and a small drink and spent just under $14!
Realistically, most restaurants will use a combination of these strategies and others to ensure they can stay in the game.
So what, you might ask, is Black & Brew doing to evolve with the industry? It is my belief that there is one element in building a successful restaurant that is more important than any other. That element is consistency- consistency in the quality of our products and consistency in service. I've found that if your customers can count on you to provide the same great experience every time, they will reward you with their loyalty. Our approach is simple: We work diligently to be as efficient as possible, but never at the cost of our customer's experience. We negotiate continually with our suppliers to bring down our food costs, but we refuse to cut the quality of our offering or reduce labor in order to boost the bottom line. Black & Brew is thriving, but if we have to take a hit during this tough time we will because we are stubbornly unwilling to sacrifice those guiding principles. We believe we have the best customers in the world, and we believe that's how they should be treated.
At some point we will pull out of this recession. I think you'll find that the restaurants that are left standing will be the ones that remembered that the customer is the only reason they exist.