Dear Independent Restaurant Owner,
I really appreciate what you are trying to do. It is tough to run a restaurant. I appreciate you trying to bring a local alternative to the chain restaurants that are all over town. We are on the same team. I work at a locally owned independent restaurant and try to spend as many of my dining dollars at them as I can. I just wish you wouldn’t keep making it so darn difficult for me to do so.
No one should ever doubt the amount of hard work and passion it takes to succeed in the restaurant business. It is still a business though. I know the idea of opening a restaurant seems like fun, but it seldom is for long. In order to earn my dining dollar and turn a profit though, there are some basic business-like principles you must follow. I know you don’t want to be all corporate-ish and such, but if you would like to turn a profit like they do, there are some things that are required.
The most basic is that you are open for business when I want to eat. I can accept being closed on Sundays. It is one of the busiest days of the week, but that is your call. You just choose to give up the money that you would bring in on that day. What I cannot understand is being closed Sundays, Monday nights, and Tuesday nights like one of my former favorite local restaurants that we will call The Farmer’s House. They also close from 2-5 everyday. A quick bit of math shows that they are open less than 40 hours a week. This still beats a cupcake shop on my block that is open from 11-4 on Wednesday-Saturday. Really? Do you not want to sell cupcakes to people that have the jobs to pay for them? Both places were closed the last three times I went there. In the past I referred a number of friends and guests to both. I no longer do so.
It would be easy to know that The Farmer’s House was closed all those hours if their website had not been taken over by Russian hackers looking to install viruses on the computer of anyone who attempted to visit it. Which brings me to my next point; you must treat this as a business. I mentioned the hacking to a friend and he said it had been like that for months. Really? You leave your site up to infect the computers of your potential customers for months? Buy me lunch, and I will fix it for free. I drove to your restaurant in spite of your website issues and you were not open. That makes me feel doubly foolish.
While we are talking about professionals, you should make sure you hire them. I know your best friend from elementary school is a great artist, but if I am paying $40 per person for dinner, I want a great server. There is more to being a great server than being a good person. Look at your Yelp reviews about the service your guests receive. I hate Yelp, but that many specific complaints about service are not a good sign. You need to address this. If you cannot afford to train your servers, you need to hire servers with enough experience that they do not need training. This is not a job you can learn as you go and your menu prices are not acceptable to be paired with second-rate service.
You must also be somewhat accommodating of your guests. A local institution I will call the Westport Swap Meet is a prime example of this shortcoming. The current owner took over the restaurant about 7 years ago to much fanfare. He was given a great deal of praise for saving this restaurant. I have been a fan myself since I first went there as a child. I live right up the street and used to visit for lunch at least twice a week. I decided that I would not return during the lunch hours recently. I am willing to have to order and pay at the counter for my food. I am willing to order and pay for my drink separately at the table. I am willing to walk back up to the counter to get my food when I am shouted at over the loud speaker. I am even willing to pay cash for all of this. I am not willing to support a restaurant that inconveniences their guest for profit.
I know that restaurants have to pay just under 3% of credit card transactions in fees. I know it stinks, but it is a convenience that nearly every restaurant offers. If you don’t have cash at The Westport Swap Meet, it is not a problem. They will promptly redirect you to a shady looking ATM machine that will charge you an absurdly high fee. So instead of the restaurant paying the 3% transaction fee, I have to pay a nearly 15% fee to get the twenty necessary to pay for my meal. Worst of all, you own the ATM and make money off of my inconvenience. I know your argument is that The Westport Swap Meet has always been cash only, but it is transparent and lame. You have no problem updating the place when it comes to raising prices. You are not so concerned with history if it is taking up space you could use for more tables. This is a transparent attempt to gouge your customers while inconveniencing them. I won’t support it.
I would not take any of this so personally if so many former independent restaurant owners had not tried to blame all of this on me. Every time another independent restaurant closes the owner talks about how the community didn’t support them. They say maybe the city wasn’t ready for a concept like theirs. If you cannot understand that you need to make it easy for me to spend the money, then maybe you are the one who is not ready. Your first step in getting the community to support you is supporting the people who want to be your guests.
Independent Restaurant Patron