I often write in this column about stuff that drives me crazy as a customer in restaurants. Like most of your other customers, I work hard and I don't want to have to work even harder at a restaurant to get decent service. So here's another dining-out pet peeve, which I offer up as constructive criticism.
I recently checked out a new place that was getting a lot of buzz. It had been talked about for more than two years before it finally opened. And from its interior it did not disappoint. I was particularly thrilled that a focal point of the place is a huge rectangular bar, with seating for nearly 40 along its four sides.
I showed up on a Thursday night and the bar was well-populated. Unfortunately, only two bartenders were on duty. It was a scenario where I know the restaurant could have sold a lot more drinks if the bar was better staffed. But on this night, two bartenders could not cover the orders quickly enough. Customers, including me and my two friends, got frustrated waiting for service and left earlier than we might have otherwise. I'm sure others did as well.
I know scheduling is always an issue and oftentimes difficult to predict. You don't want to pay employees to stand around. But I see this scenario happen a lot when the owner/manager should have known better. In the case above, it's a new restaurant; it's a Thursday night; the weather is excellent and it's the holiday season. So the restaurant saved the labor cost of two bartenders who, by the way, are just that — not highly paid mixologists. I'm convinced that the additional drink sales would have exceeded the extra wages.
The other issue here is what you lose when you disappoint customers. “Hey, let's go to that new restaurant!” “No, let's try someplace else. I was there the other night and you have to wait forever to get a drink.” You never want to encourage that conversation. It's just too costly.
But sometimes there's no method to the madness of customer traffic. At times when you think a lot of customers will come, they don't. And there are times when you think nobody will show up and you get slammed. I would love your comments about my above experience, but even more so, what formula you use to make sure you're properly staffed. I'm sure it will help others.
Meanwhile, Chicago-based restaurant consulting company Technomic predicts that alcohol sales at restaurants and bars will increase this year by nearly two percent. That's nothing to get excited about since 2010 was a weak year. But as someone who spends a lot of time in restaurants, I can tell you that people are growing weary of pinching pennies. They want to get back to some normalcy, which includes a good cocktail or two. But they're still a bit edgy and in no mood for nonsense. Make sure your place is the one that is accommodating and stress-free. Customers will reward you with loyalty.