• Mike Hughes

The Times They Are A Changin'

Bob Dylan released this song in 1964, and arguably, during that period, things in our culture were absolutely changing.

Dining out during the mid 60’s consisted of independently owned restaurants, and corporate chains were MOSTLY fast food. Many of the corporate chains to evolve out of that era, are not here today.

However, if you were looking at going out to eat, instead of mom making her family favorite home cooked meal, you didn’t have the choices we have in 2019, nor did we have the data, information and online stranglehold we have today.

Arby’s and Tim Hortons were founded in 1964. TGI Fridays and Ponderosa were founded in 1965. Steak and Ale was founded in 1966. Lion's choice in 67. . .and so on. However for every Friday’s and Lion's Choice that made it, there were 1000 Beefsteak Charlies, Lums or HoJo’s that failed. Besides many of these failures being absolutely horrible, what other reasons led to permanent locks on their doors?

While television was a “thing” in those days, it wasn’t until 1972, when the sale of color television sets outnumbered the sale of black and white sets, that these chains could lure families out in living color with advertisements of happy families sitting around a table at Sambo’s! Now, of course there were TV spots featuring restaurants on channels 6, 10 and 13, but they certainly not like we see them today. Pull up some commercials from the 60’s. They are a riot!

In order for restaurants to succeed back then, their biggest challenge was trying to coax families to abandon the house wifes delicious home cooked meals, and to convince husbands that they could afford to spend money, on one income, to dine out.

So how did folks back then decide where to eat?

Magazines and television were still not viable avenues for restaurants to tout their businesses, and most TV commercials in those days were focused on home cooked meals, a few select restaurants and CEREAL.

The truth is, word of mouth was the driver. One of Mr. Jones co-workers brought his family to HoJo’s, Shakey’s, Mr Steak, A&W, KFC or even McDonalds, and told Mr. Jones how delightful and convenient it was. Then Mr. Jones had to talk Mrs. Jones into hanging up her apron for the evening to try something “new”.

(Keep in mind, the lady of the house made fewer financial decisions those days. )

There were no Yelp reviews. There were no social media platforms. Cell phones were literally a generation in the future and the final decision was usually left up to the “man of the house” based on what his boss may have told him the day prior.

In 1967 a McDonalds hamburger would set you back .15 cents. Fries were a dime and a shake was 2 dimes.

So at 45 cents a head, a family of 4 was eating for about 2 bucks. However with the median household income at about $7,000 a year, it was still a special event.

Families didn’t just decide all Willy Nilly where they were going to spend their hard earned money. They asked a neighbor or co-worker.

Today, we still ask a neighbor or co-worker where they LOVE to dine. That however is usually after an exhaustive search on google and checking Yelp, Trip advisor, Open Table, Zagat, Zomato, Eat24, or any of the 20 social media platforms that discuss where to go and WHERE TO AVOID.

It’s the “where to avoid” part today that impacts a guests decision on where to park their car.

Restaurant operators, typically despise these places of public opinion, as they watch all their hard work of building a reputation slide into the dumpster because one guy published his experience of a foreign object in his burger, flat beer and clogged toilets, all the while the manager was engaged in a text exchange with an off duty hostess he’s trying to date.

As an operator and as a guest, I typically take these reviews with a grain of salt.

That is however, for a one-off. . . .Conversely, if one restaurant is consistently providing rude staff behaviors, or the inability to get a steak cooked correctly time and time again, then that restaurant just MAY have an issue there. All the denial by restaurant operators in the world, won’t fix the root cause of why their business is in the aforementioned dumpster.

So with this vast, nearly infinitive avenue of information, today’s restaurants need to approach how they drive people into their front doors differently. All the advertising in the world will never fix pages of poor customer reviews. What WILL fix pages of poor reviews, is a whole other story, and is one I have told on my Blog before, however the BIGGEST single mistake a restaurant can do within their shelf lives, is dump advertising money into driving foot traffic, while ignoring why people may not be showing up in the first place.

Spend that money fixing food, staff training and repairing facilities.

The point of my writing today is to really drive home the fact that the information highway has left piles of dead restaurants in its wake that DON’T focus on the modern day “word of mouth”. The truth is painful to restaurant operators and far too many of them avoid negative feedback.

The information travels so fast today compared to 50 years ago, decades before the internet was even a thing. In those days, most times the feedback loop typically happened over a game of poker, or bridge (remember games?), and even negative restaurant experiences took weeks to get from one person to a handful.

Today? If you burn someones pizza and don’t take steps to satisfy the guest, millions hear about it by the time you hit the parking lot in disgust. From there, all your 1,932 facebook friends, 256 of them living within driving distance of the pizza of doom, will not go there. Throw a Yelp review out there and every “foodie” on earth knows to avoid the place.

Operational excellence. Better food and service than your competition. Clean properties with the BEST trained staff members in your region. The ability to read, react and RESPOND to bad reviews. These are only ways to avoid becoming the next Minnie Pearl's Chicken.

One final thought; Take a look in your town or city at the most successful, highest end restaurants. You know the one that you need to make a reservation 3 weeks in advance? Then go to their Yelp or Tripadvisor. . .I can absolutely assure you that their ratings are among the top rated places in the city. In the event the do get someone who's unhappy, they respond. They care. Finally try to find their advertisement in the paper, or on TV. They aren’t there my friends. They don’t need to be, and they will never end up like Minnie Pearls.


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