• Mike Hughes

Are you giving the wrong signs?

I live in a VERY small city. . .By most accounts, with a population of under 30,000 people, it’s more like a town. However, within this city, which is ranked the best small city in NY to live in, as well as number 11 nationally, lies an abundance of restaurants. In fact, the number of restaurants per person living here, is a staggering 1 restaurant for every 200 residents.

Think about that for a second.

I am a huge fan of this city and I love strolling the streets, whether I’m just shopping, people watching, or looking for a bite to eat.

It is a city with a very cool vibe and vibrant dining scene.

On one of my strolls prior to the holidays, there was a restaurant property on the main drag with a sign marked “AVAILABLE”.

It is a restaurant that was open for a short time, and regrettably, I never ate there. Under the “AVAILABLE” sign were other signs.

2 for 1 drafts, Live Music, and other “specials”.

I like to call these other signs, “pre-restaurant for lease” signs.

You see, one thing I know about operating in highly competitive markets, is that discounts, specials, coupons and other forms of desperation rarely work. Besides the obvious basics of stellar operations, clean facilities and fabulous food, you need offerings that you perhaps can’t get at the other 350 places to eat within 10 blocks.

Niche isn't a bad thing if its done with passion, planning, creativity and love.

So as I checked out some reviews of this closed, choice location, they were as I expected.


I absolutely get the 2 sides of the coin for online restaurant reviews, but I am firm on this point. . .If dozens of people are writing the same 4 bad things about your restaurant, those 4 things are broken. Of course that owner with the 2 star reviews out of 300 people with think all those reviews are nonsense. However, if you talk to any operator with 4.5 stars, they will simply acknowledge that they are doing things right.

(however they will still hate YELP).

Back to my point. . .The YELP reviews for this place were bad. Not just here and there bad, but bad to the core of everything they did. Bartenders being drunk, burnt food, bathrooms that don’t lock, uncaring staff, warm beer, flat beer, cold burgers, canned products and I lost track of how many people hated the french fries. . .You need to produce decent potatoes in this town, if nothing else. Further reading showed the staff huddled in the corner carrying on with each other, a bartender who couldn't care less, uncaring waitresses and most reviews indicated that one or more items were delivered to the table wrong and seemingly everyone waited too long for everything.

So with all these missteps, I suppose their solution was to hang discount signs and specials on the front door.

Did they really think that dragging people in for cheap beer specials, only to disappoint them with horrible service, atrocious food and a drunk and uncaring staff, is the answer? Not in any city, let alone this one, will this work. Restaurant patrons are more critical than ever before, and with all the options in town, the underperforming restaurants have a very short shelf life. Nobody these days will put up with a poorly trained staff and uninspired food regardless of what kind of specials are available. The reality is this; Top restaurants that serve amazing and unique offerings served by expertly trained staff almost NEVER resort to cheapening their product. You will never see poorly made discount signs hanging outside a 4.5 star reviewed business.

There are other signs I sometimes see on front doors to restaurants that are soon to be closing; “Now Hiring”, “Chef needed” and “Hiring all positions” posters. Why not advertise to your potential guests you are understaffed, mismanaged or most likely both?

On your front door no less! Sounds like a great plan, doesn’t it?

So before your business ends up with posters on the door like, ½ price drafts, buy 10 lunches, get 1 free, Karaoke every Tuesday, and Chef needed, get to the core of why these signs are going up in the first place. Too many operators are blind when it comes to their own business. These same restaurant operators can dine out somewhere else and tear the experience to shreds, yet ignore the poor food and service in the place they own. So whether you are doing a small plate concept, with Chef prepared table side service, or a 200 seat Steakhouse, do it with passion, excellence and always be your own worst critic.

The only sign you should see on your door is OPEN.


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