My friend Mary Ellen arrived at my back door recently, exclaiming a local restaurant had gone out of business. "When did that happen?" she asked.
"Oh, I think a few months ago," I answered.
"Really? We used to go there every Friday night. I loved the salad bar. The kids could always find something they would eat," she responded.
"So, when did you last go there?" I asked.
"Oh, I haven't been there in years," she answered, "but I used to go all the time."
Driving around Saratoga this afternoon, I drove up Union Avenue. My friend remarked, "Look at that, the Spring Water Inn is closed and in new hands. How could that happen? It was one of the best restaurants in Saratoga, one of my favorites."
So I asked, "When was the last time you went there?"
"Oh, a couple of summers ago," she answered.
Driving up the street, I noticed that Bruno's Wood Fried Pizza had changed hands. I didn't mention it, but I really loved the place, owned by a math teacher turned chef. I related to the fifties decor and loved the pizza. Loaded with vegetables, "Twiggy" was my favorite. Alas, I haven't been there since I moved away from Saratoga Springs, but I used to go all the time." Used to" is the operative word here.
"Used to" doesn't do a restaurant any good. We all understand a new restaurant will struggle, but we are surprised when a successful restaurant or chain closes.
Simple fact: If you want a restaurant to be there, you have to go there. There is no point liking a restaurant from afar. Restaurants can't survive without you. You are the number needed to bring in the bucks to pay the staff, to buy the food, to pay the mortgage, to pay the taxes and to wash the linen. If a restaurant is closed, most likely it closed due to your absence. The restaurant did not just decide to close for the heck of it. It could have closed because the owner retired, or maybe there was a flood or a fire, or maybe the owner got a good offer for the property. But most of the time, a restaurant closes for want of you.
A "closed" sign indicates somehow you, the potential customer, decided not to go there. You may have liked the place, but you did not go enough, or not enough of you went enough. It may not be your fault, and I'm sure you didn't close it on purpose, but it closed.
OK, so you had a good excuse. I can hear those excuses now. You only have so much money to spend on dining out. The service wasn't as good as it used to be. You might say another restaurant had better food for a better price. Maybe the restaurant was too far away. Perhaps, you just didn't think of going here. Perhaps you got tired of going, or maybe you stopped going out. Perhaps there were more new and more exciting food choices elsewhere. Perhaps you are fickle and wanted to try other restaurants. Yeah, yeah, the ex-restaurant owner has heard them all.
The truth of the matter is it doesn't matter what the excuse is: You stopped going for one reason or another - perhaps the restaurant did not continue your standards, perhaps it did not change as you changed, and perhaps it could not compete with your life.
Restaurants have a life cycle. To survive, a restaurant must go through all the life cycles. Like a person, they are born, go through the toddler stage, adolescence, adulthood and maturity.
The birth and infancy of a restaurant is the learning stage. Everything is new. No training of the basics can be skipped or the learning process can't continue. All areas must be covered: Money, staffing, advertising, location, training and decor must be set up right.
Adolescence is the exciting period: growing, coming up with ideas, testing the system and rejecting what is learned that does not work. Restaurants that fail during this period didn't apply the basics, or they may have the basics right, but failed to correctly maneuver growth. Money may have run out.
People reach successful adulthood when they have a good foundation. Like us, the restaurant must take good care of itself during its lifetime: keeping itself in shape, trimming off the fat, saving for the lean years, building up a support group, taking care of its family, communicating clearly, planning for the future and becoming financially sound. It survives during different economic and demographic climates. It has built a solid customer base, yet still attracts new customers.
During maturity, a restaurant becomes aware of its end. Whenever we see a "for sale" sign in front of a previously successful restaurant, the business acknowledges that no restaurant lasts forever. A thriving restaurant must plan for rebirth, or plan to cease to exist. Rarely does a successful business have to end when the owner retires. A successful restaurant can be sold. Rebirth may require changing the concept, updating the menu, redoing the decor, becoming current with all trends, surveying the customers for their likes, revising the technology and maybe even moving the location. It may then survive if it attracts customers.
That is where you, my restaurant-loving readers, come into the picture. Simple fact: If you want a restaurant to be there, you have to go there.
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