Does anyone else think it strange that people always seem to blame the economy when a business closes it's doors?
A restaurant in my small town closed this weekend. I'm not sure of the exact date it was established, I believe it has been around my whole life (so... est. circa 1984). From my early memories, I knew this place was the fancy place in town for no other reason than that I never went there. My mom went there a few times with her friends, but I was not invited and until very recently I had still never even seen the inside.
I became intrigued a few months ago when I started to hear rumblings about the place and how it looked like a library inside and was essentially out of fashion, yet almost kitschy, and had a happy hour menu.
Please understand that there are very few happy hours in this town. I was psyched.
I invited a group of friends, eight of us in total, to get happy hour on a Friday afternoon. We sat in these high-backed loveseats drinking cocktails straight out of the 80's (lots of rum), eating delicious fried zuchinni and potato skins/boats/whateveryoucallthosethings, and observing the round back brass and leather chairs, bookshelves and poker memorabilia. We sat there for three hours and ate nearly everything on their menu and had a great time checking out the crowd. A table of lawyers sat next to us and some other groups came in for drinks and appetizers, along with all of the patrons sitting in the dark wood booths across from the bar.
This place was kind of great. Not only that, but it was busy while we were there.
Why did it close?
Well, according to the local newspaper's story, the businesses profits had been declining over the years and had taken a particular dip in recent years. However, they were in the black at this time and figured they should end on a high note.
The newspaper's headline disturbed me. With a sense of doomsday, it declared this business another victim of our plummeting economy (in some other words similar to that).
Here's my theory. This restaurant was once thought of as the only fine-dining establishment in town, maybe in the entire county. It was on-trend in the 80's and 90's and had a great clientele. Since then trends have changed and, as far as I can tell, their branding and marketing efforts did not.
Now, to all of you reading this, when was the last time you went to any restaurant that called itself a "fine dining" restaurant. This is a working class post-industrial miller lite drinking community. Nobody is getting dressed up for a big night out. The local idea of a special night out involves driving to Olympia to eat at the Olive Garden.
Could this restaurant had survived if they became known as a local establishment with history and a great price on steak and beer? Maybe. Or if they revamped their happy hour menu and cocktail list to suit a younger crowd? Probably.
Yet one more issue that I believe killed this business. They have zero web presence. No real Facebook page. No website.
I'm a total product of my generation. When I'm going out to eat, I use my Yelp app on my phone to see what's around me. Even in this small town where I grew up. I look at their reviews first. Second, I look at the pictures of the place. I like to know what I'm walking into. Third, I like to review the menu, even if it isn't priced, I just like to see what my options are before I commit.
Remember how I had never been there until a few months ago? I literally had no idea what it looked like inside. NO IDEA. It could have been covered in gold and the dress code required sequins for all I knew. People always said it was a fancy place, and that turned me off. Why would I go somewhere fancy when I could go to the local pub for a burger and a beer in a relaxed atmosphere? A typical evening with any of my friends looks something like this: We get hungry. We say "well where should we eat"... we think about it for about 10 minutes and can literally only think of 2 places (neither of which are this particular restuarant). We go to the same place every time.
So, I'm here to claim that this restaurant closed not because of the economy, but because of a lack of understanding of their market and failed/zero efforts to re-brand.
I hope someone comes in and picks up the pieces to start something new. And I hope that our local newspapers and community members will not continue to blame the "economy" for all of their business problems. There's so much room for greatness in this economy if people are willing to put in some effort and understand the need to change.