These days, I glance around my busy little neighborhood restaurant and breathe a small sigh of relief. The seats are filled, and the guests are happy. I don’t get cocky about it though, because this business is a fickle one and things weren’t always this rosy. It’s definitely been a long and arduous journey to success.
Success for my adolescent restaurant—we turn 5 in February—means we will break even this year and maybe come out a little ahead. It means we will start paying money back to family members who believed in our vision, and that we are finally able to sustain the things we believe in, like higher-than-average wages, benefits and clean, quality ingredients. However non-negotiable these things are for us, they all come with a hefty price tag.
Now that we are consistently busy, I will occasionally run into a customer who doesn’t quite share my joy or understand the way this works. They will complain about the lack of open tables and reminisce about “the good old days” when we were their happy little secret. There is even a local organization that celebrates “hidden gems.” Their intentions are all good, since the goal is to bring to light these often-overlooked locales, but I don’t know a single business that can afford to stay “hidden.”
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The first few years are the most crucial for any restaurant’s survival and the time when we really need your support the most. This is the time where we are all still gaining traction. Did you know that according to some sources, approximately 60% of restaurants close down within the first year, and a staggering 80% fail by the fifth year?
Please don’t misunderstand this letter, though. I love being a restaurateur. I have intentionally chosen this profession because I love food and because I want to directly contribute to the food culture of my community. Unique restaurants are a big part of any cool city, something to brag about, and something that sets us apart.
Now I find myself once again in the early stages of restaurant parenthood and it turns out that things are no easier the second time around. There’s a group of us who have chosen to stray off the beaten path of the popular Downtown and instead take a chance on a new and up and coming area. This decision does not come without its risks. I have often gone to visit my fellow trailblazers only to see a half empty bar or restaurant and it scares me a little.
This season, my holiday ask of you is just to spread the word. Pick a few of your favorite places and do something to promote them today. Often times the main struggle for any new business is really nothing more than a lack of exposure. I know we all can’t afford to go out to eat every day. But what we can do is tell everyone about a new discovery, leave a positive review online(Facebook, Yelp, Google, etc), make sure your friends and family know about your favorite spot…even if it does make it a little harder to get into the next time. And if you do have a little cash to spare, by all means please dine with us, or buy our gift cards, or even just come by for a happy hour drink! Every little bit helps to ensure that all of your favorite, unique little spots will make it another year!
Happy Holidays and don’t forget to tip your servers!
Berglund is an owner of Luna Fargo and Sol Ave. Kitchen in Moorhead.