Liberty, NCA Great Place to Live.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Why restaurants fail.

The Dogwood Bistro closes it's doors according to the Liberty Leader on Facebook. The comments offer numerous reasons such as a socio-economic disparity among town residents, the restaurant's service or its location.

Interestingly, businesses must fail as they're a part of the engine of economic growth. People invest money, shut down and someone else comes in and repeats the process. The building that Dogwood resided in seems to be cursed with such a phenomenon. It doesn't help that the location is somewhat obscure. Which get's me to the core of the problem, why restaurants fail here in Liberty.

There's no single reason. Surely, a profitable restaurant that stays in business is ideally more preferred to the constant life-cycle of the restaurant entrepreneur. That said, a lot of people open restaurants who don't have the skills to do so. Now, I never visited Dogwood. In fact, I've been in Europe for the last year, so the food may have been brillant. But the honest to goodness truth is that a lot of people who open restaurants think they can cook but can't. It's okay, I'm just being honest.

Of all the reasons, this is the most common. Because reason number 2, is not knowing how to run a business (lack of marketing, common sense). I've seen restaurants with excellent food thrive even when its poorly managed. Most people have one skill or another, those with neither are doomed from the beginning.

I hold a master's in public relations and communications. I've worked with restaurants in building their brand and developing communication plans. Here in Liberty, if you're opening a new restaurant, hiring someone like me is probably your best bet at seeing success. No doubt the majority of people who open a restaurant here will continue to ignore this advise and blindly pursue a venture with which they're personally biased to fail at. In other words, you need the opinion and advise of others to determine if the product and your brand is viable.  Just to clarify, this is not your cousin Willy.

So back to rule 1... you can't cook. If you think you can (which obviously you do because you're opening a restaurant), have a professional come in and look at your recipes. Do focus groups with customers (in exchange for the free food) and get some honest to goodness criticism from others before you open your doors. Just because your kids and uncle Joey love your cooking doesn't actually mean it's good.... it mean's your family hasn't tasted real food. Invite some local chefs over or more importantly, real people, like food bloggers.

So what could Dogwood have done different? Well, not inclusively, but here are somethings I would have recommended.

  • The business name should include what kind of food your selling. Are you a burger restaurant, Italian or something else. Dogwood's Hamburgers, while not as catchy tells exactly what you do. Someone driving by the restaurant would know instantly what you sell. If you're not focused on a single item, clearly you should rethink your business approach.
  • Considering the location, it should have been necessary to do a traffic study of vehicles passing the restaurant and if it could support the level of income necessary to keep it sustainable. The biggest mistake was not advertising the restaurant off 421. Purchasing a highway (this exit) sign may have literally made the difference in the survival of the business. Additionally, renting signs out downtown may have driven traffic meant for other restaurants.
  • Have a social media presence. There's absolutely no reason not to have a website (no Wix isn't very good), Facebook and Instagram account. Hire a high-school intern to run it but it's absolutely vital these days. Update it everyday. Make people drool for your food.
  • Finally, Dogwood could have offered something new. Find your unique niche. Offer drive-thru service or delivery. Offer the hottest jalapeno hamburger in all of Randolph county. Offer a food challenge. Build a brand that is thematic and makes customers want to have an experience, not just a meal.
I'm certain there's other things too. Furthermore, though I use Dogwood Bistro as an example it's only because they're closing. I'd like to see more businesses succeed in this town but unfortunately a good proportion will continue to fail because of hubris. Maybe this will help.