Everybody in this business has slow nights. But what if most nights at your restaurant are slow? If you’re one of those restaurant owners who experience this dread, then walk out your front door and take a look at your competitors. Are they, too, having slow nights when you are? Worse yet, are their restaurants full? If the latter is true, then it’s time for some soul searching.

I bring this up because I’ve had recent experiences where I found myself in empty restaurants. One was an Italian concept in the middle of a very hot neighborhood with several good restaurants. The good restaurants in question were all slammed on a recent Friday night. You couldn’t get a seat in any of them without a reservation.

Out of professional curiosity, I decided to check out the Italian restaurant, which has been around for at least a couple years, though nobody I know goes there or has even mentioned the place. Once inside, I saw one couple in a booth. That’s it. Never a good sign on a weekend night. Instead of running, which my instincts were telling me to do, I looked at the menu, which had more than a dozen pasta selections, many of them with a pink cream/tomato sauce. Should there be more than one pasta with a pink sauce on any menu? Okay, two? Not five.

I decided to stay and order a pasta dish with a simple marinara sauce. When the dish arrived at my table it had exactly what I didn’t want—a pink cream sauce. How does that happen? There’s only one other occupied table and the couple there was more interested in canoodling than eating.

I politely pointed out the mistake, though I decided to keep the pasta rather than wait for the correct order to be fired. The server was genuinely upset by the error and the owner/manager took the charge off my bill, despite my pleas to pay. So, on a Friday night with just two occupied tables, little or no money is made on one of them.

I understand a bit better why the failure rate of restaurants in this country is off the charts. The owner of this place in question and so many others are either clueless or in denial. Menu items at the Italian restaurant are wildly redundant and lack craveability. The food is neither bad, good nor memorable. Nice people, too. It’s a shame.

But on a Friday night when all his competitors are busy, the owner of this restaurant apparently continues to do what he’s being doing all along and with little success. How long can this restaurant continue like this? It’s not a pony I’d bet on.

So, as I said at the beginning of this piece, if you’re having really slow nights, walk out your door and check on your competitors. If they’re having really good nights, then you’re likely doing something wrong and it’s time to get off your ass and do something before it’s too late. If it comes to this point, you’ve got nothing to lose by making changes. Change can be paralyzing, but bankruptcy is a much harder pill to swallow.

Michael Sanson, Editor-in-Chief
e-mail: mike.sanson@penton.com
Twitter: @MikeSansonRH