How much money should a restaurateur spend on a new project?
I’m gonna make a big call here but the huge cash splash outlay that many operators fork out when setting up a new restaurant or café is akin to what the Hollywood blockbuster is to high art. It’s a tactic designed to your loosen your stubborn money with the lubricants of shock and awe. It detonates the notion of neophillia that may lie inert within us and then condenses it into a compulsive urge to visit. But like chewing gum, it loses it flavor pretty quickly and then all you’re left with is some window putty in your gob. Once the hubris has died down, the rent-a-crowd moved on and the reviewers fluttered in to anoint or dismiss its up to the product and service to do the rest of the act. Sadly for many blockbusters, this isn’t enough.
Of course there are exceptions.
When high talent and high art come together the results set the benchmark but in my opinion, this is a pretty rare occurrence.
If spending so much moolah is a pre-requisite for a successful restaurant or café business, how does one explain the queues snaking from the, op-shop-chic, Formica-tabled and cobbled together fit outs?
I don’t think one has to spend a shedload. In fact I think the places that attract my custom are the ones where the operators personality is out and proud and on display for all to see. They might be quirky. They might be sophisticated and they may even be sexy. They all share a common denominator though: They are not your ‘Off the rack’ designs churned out by Interior Decorating Central.
People often comment on the blandness of Hotel lobbies and their restaurants. Commonly, a pervading undercurrent of corporate-ness denudes any hint of that elusive element we call charm. They’re often staffed by well meaning and courteous panto-players for whom devotion to the role only goes as far as the end of the shift is in start contrast to the owner-operator whom toils daily with ‘the method’ and hopefully never sees the final curtain fall.
I’m coming to the belief that many operators are relying on the big fit-out because there’s only so far you can go with the food and bev. There are operators that ‘gather’ talent, place them on a big stage, sit back and wait for the hordes to arrive but are routinely disappointed that this is not enough to attract custom. Regularly we read about ‘hospitality-supergroups’ that merge only to divide like cells a short time later. I believe that this is because the venture may, on paper, stack up however many are blind to the emerging methods in which younger eaters and drinkers are using venues.
Meanwhile, a generation of nuovo operatore are finding spaces in the cracks left by the Boomer and X operators, in which to trade, often on a shoestring budget with only self belief and enthusiasm behind them. For every big-ticket opening there are several smaller places emerging not just in the cities but also even in rural areas.
The big restaurant groups I have been involved with never said this out loud but we all knew we were targeting the baby Boomers. The shop fit-outs were appealing to them, so were the menus, the style of service and the ambience.
Makes sense really, they have most of the money.
However, we might be just on the cusp of a shift in for whom, the legion of eateries are targeting?