Highs and lows in restaurant business

September 15, 2016

Last week’s news about Rehoboth’s Espuma closing its doors got me thinking about how much effort goes into a restaurant, only to have it fade out. There are many reasons for a restaurant – or any business – to close, but all too often the stated reason will be “the economy.” Mind you, I am not saying that that necessarily applies to the closing of Espuma. But when that excuse does get trotted out after a closing, I see it as nothing more than a smokescreen for mistakes and poor decisions.

When I had my latest restaurant, the owner of a neighboring eatery used to amaze me by never being on the premises. The food and service were abysmal. He blamed his staff, the customers and … yup, “the economy.” He was a victim all right, but not for the reason he wanted us to believe. It wasn’t long before his front door was sporting the inevitable “For Rent” sign. Several years ago I read about another failing restaurant whose owner suggested he receive government funds to bolster his business because of … you guessed it, “the economy.” His food was so bad that it bordered on dangerous. His closing was a public service.

Of course, economic difficulties are certainly real and can wreak havoc in many industries, but let’s not forget the many restaurants that DO manage to support their ownership and employees by being busy most of the time. They’re in the same economy as the failures, right? Examples include, but are certainly not limited to, the SoDel Concepts restaurants, Henlopen City Oyster House, Bethany Blues, the Touch of Italy group, Mariachi, the Big Fish Restaurant Group, Dos Locos, Shorebreak Lodge, Back Porch Café, Pig & Fish/Pickled Pig Pub, Blue Moon, Café Azafran, the Highway One LP locations, Confucius ... the list could go on and on and is by no means exclusive. These and other successful places have four key qualities in common: (1) Ownership or trusted management is on the premises tending bar, bussing tables, greeting guests or cooking. (2) They adapt to economic changes with coupons, skilled menu management, advertising and the like. (3) They make genuine efforts to right the inevitable wrong, and (4) their staff admires and respects them. They don’t have time to worry about “the economy.”

I feel bad for any restaurant that has to face the ignominy of closing, but even here at the beach, expert management, consistently good food and service trump the “economy” excuse every time.

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