Marcus Samuelsson once said, "One of the reasons that people enjoy coming to a great restaurant is that, when an extraordinary meal is placed in front of them, they feel honored, respected and even a little bit loved."
That statement is why the restaurant business is so vital to the ultimate success and growth of a community. Communities without great places to eat are communities that will find it hard to sustain any sort of consistent growth. Over the past couple of years, many restaurants have closed. Those local restaurants that haven't closed are either near their breaking point or approaching that point quickly. If there ever was a time for the community to yell, "all hands on deck," now is the time in the restaurant business.
This column is a call to arms for the entire community. While not totally true 100% of the time, in the past, it was safe to say restaurants have historically suffered due to poor management and were forced to close their doors. What is left today are restaurants that have resilient management but yet have been buffeted by the economic winds of covid, inflation, sky-rocketing wages, and recession, leaving them vulnerable to joining the others already shuttered.
When I say the words "all hands on deck," I mean the entire community. Now is the time for each of us to step up and be a community leader in this effort. Don't get the wrong impression; this is a two-tiered approach, one by the community and the other by the restaurants. Knowing that, let's take a quick look at what can be done now.
First, everyone in the community must commit to frequenting local restaurants more than they might normally have done. When you are thinking of visiting a national chain for a meal, make a conscious decision to visit a locally-owned restaurant instead. Nothing against national chains, but most chains have deeper pockets, allowing them to weather the current storm. Your local restaurants do not have this safety net. When you spend locally, each dollar spent will be multiplied throughout your community three to seven times; this is much higher than money spent at national chains.
This effort will help to save your local restaurants. This places your community on more solid ground. In a community or county of 25,000 residents, just one extra visit each month, per person, spending an average of $20 per person equates to $500,000 each month flowing through the community, or $6 million per year. Add in the compounding aspect, and you have about $18 million floating through each year. How many local restaurants and jobs will that save?
Secondly, local residents should adopt a locally-owned restaurant. By adopting, we mean to take them under your wing and visit them often. Get to know the owners and let them know you care about them and want to see them succeed. When you know the owners of locally-owned restaurants and any business, for that matter, they become your friends and neighbors. It becomes much easier to help friends and neighbors in their time of need. Imagine 25,000 residents adopting a locally-owned restaurant or business.
Locally-owned restaurants must be in tune with their customer base. If your town is full of lunchtime sandwich and burger shops, that isn't fulfilling the needs of your community. In many communities, you must leave the community to find a nice quiet atmosphere, linens on the table, and a nice steak. The community leaders need to work with local entrepreneurs and/or restaurants to develop locally-owned restaurants that meet the needs of the entire community. If the local places close at 5 or 6 p.m., they are missing out on 70% of the restaurant business.
I could write another complete column with additional ideas a local community might incorporate into its local restaurant survival plans, but I suspect many communities have plenty of bright and forward-thinking people able to expand upon this list.
Let me re-use a quote I used a year ago, "Every time you spend money, you are casting a vote for the kind of world you want." Now is the time to cast that vote for your locally-owned restaurants.
Another critical element to a successful community's ability to win this economic war is the cooperation of its local media. This is an opportunity for the local media to shine. Local media must take this effort to heart and make a difference in their communities. When the local media provides the education, reporting, interviews, and marketing push to make this happen, the community, along with the locally-owned restaurant businesses, will be grateful. The local media needs a vibrant locally-owned business base to survive. What better project than this in a time of crisis for both the restaurant businesses and the local media companies?
-- John Newby is a nationally-recognized publisher, community, chamber, business and media strategy consultant and speaker. His "Building Main Street, not Wall Street" column runs in more than 60 communities around the country. As founder of Truly-Local, he assists community leaders, businesses and local media in building synergies and creating more vibrant communities. He can be reached at [email protected]