From the rumblings on restaurant row business is slow. Of course, it always is in January. The night people once roaming the streets looking for that secluded bistro, cafe, or trattoria, have now taken to the couch to watch American Idol. But don’t let your daily numbers get you down. In order to survive, it many be time to cut back the hours of your favorite waitress, give an extra day off to the line cook and you may possibly have to go behind the stick a few nights each week
I was speaking with a good friend the other day who once managed one of my restaurants and has since bought it. Yes, he is still a good friend. His life on Lake Minnetonka in the summer is extraordinary. But, during the winter, the wind blows from the west, across the lake and makes once romantic evenings on the lakeside patio, too freezing for even the Minnesota ice fishermen. His solution is to close on Monday and Tuesday and to work on fine tuning his menu, develop his spring schedule and to analyze food costs.
It is a great time of year to get those projects out of the way that seemed so pressing in the middle of October. Back then, lack of time or extra energy after a busy day and evening made you push them to the bottom of the never ending list. Now, you seem to have all the time in the world but are down because revenues are dropping. Hang in there. It will get better. take another look at that project list. Completion will make you feel a bit better.
I always looked at January as the shake-out month. I got rid of things I didn’t want or need anymore.
It’s a wonderful month to prepare budgets and projections for the year. The last week of January was always the month my partner would sit me down in the office and force me to analyze food costs for the past two quarters and attempt to project them for the next two. Although it was a great exercise, it was painful.
Everyone in the business, and all those craving to get into the business, should remember that January is hell. Everyone is struggling this month. Your neighbors are slow. Don´t think it was something you served, or something one of your staff said. It is just that time of the year on the restaurant calendar. Don´t take offense when the one annoying regular comes in and asks, "Where is everyone?"
Frequently in January, I got the urge to open another restaurant. I would prowl around looking for closed spaces. When I found one that I liked, the traffic count on the block would persuade me to get back in my car and leave, quickly, without writing the landlord´s number down. It’s a great month to realize the restaurants you own can be fine tuned and tweaked without entering into another lease.
In Sonoma, California, where you would think the season always bustles, there are numerous restaurants closed for renovation and others are dark for good. It has been a tough month. But remember it is almost over, and Valentine´s Day is just around the corner.
Have you worked on that menu yet? How about a reasonably priced postcard, sent to everyone in the neighborhood, enticing them to enjoy Valentine’s evening at your restaurant?
Back in the mid-90’s I had to spend numerous hours at Kinkos designing and printing cards for mailers. (I believed then, and still do, that restaurant owners do not do enough direct mail promotion.) Now, however, you can design and print promotional pieces on your computer quickly, inexpensively, with a good quality level.
My favorite mailer was the one that simply said ” Sweetheart, I am sorry I missed your birthday. How about sharing Valentine’s Day with me at Chez Foley? Call (phone number) and make a reservation. Love, Bob.”
That card went out to 3000 residents in a small town west of Minneapolis. The reservation book was a testamonial to the promotion. Once everyone who received the card realized that it was addressed to “Resident” they got the joke. But I am sure it caused a bit of a stir. It also helped begin a very successful postcard program that added tremedous notoriety and volume to the restaurant.
You can have some fun this month that puts a smile on your customer’s face, helps fill the restaurant in the future, and with the right planning, budgeting and scheduling can be one of the most profitable months you’ll have, You just won’t be able to count the money right away.