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Still want to know where restaurant customers are

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We were inundated with letters responding to Michael Sanson’s editorial asking why restaurants are full some days and completely empty on other days. He wondered: Is there a method to the madness? Here’s what readers had to say.

During yesterday’s lunch service, we had an unexpected full house and record sales. The problem was we were not staffed accordingly and as hard as we try, when you have an unexpected rush with not enough employees, sometimes things get sloppy.  Then later for dinner service, I had to cut employees due to lack of business. This wasn’t the first time and it won’t be the last. I feel better knowing I’m not the only one.

Andrea Molnar
Lui Lui
Athens, OH

Why empty one night and a line out the door the next night? It’s because of inconsistency and owners who try to find ways to make money with less food costs rather than building relationships with clients. The staff you employ must reflect your desire to give clients a wonderful experience and memory. Thankfully, at Café Cortina we have many of the same staff members who started with me 38 years ago. They are dedicated and loved.

Rina Tonon
Café Cortina
Farmington Hills, MI

We have experienced the bewilderment of why some regularly busy days are slow and some slow days are unusually busy. You mentioned that crazy theories are welcome. Well, my theory is that people are composed primarily of water so perhaps there is some kind of human tide we unconsciously abide by. The rotation of the moon around the Earth has an effect on our coastal waters so it might also have an effect on the movement of the population.

Or, the Ravens are playing in Baltimore and everyone who comes to our restaurant has season tickets. Sporting events, local events and even other media events I think have an effect on whether people go out or not as well.

One promotion we have that always brings in people is our half-price burger night at the bar on Sundays. Even then some Sundays are busier than others. Perhaps it is simply the vicissitudes of nature.

Chad Price
General Manager
Fulton, MD

While not 100 percent accurate, I have what you would call a method. It took several years of gathering data on a spreadsheet. I can now look back one, two, three or more years and compare. For example, this week coming up, all the kids are now out of school. I know my lunch business is going to pick up the week leading to Christmas.  I also know that my catering business is going to go off the charts for Christmas parties.  I also put notes in my spreadsheet like “teacher half-day at the high school.”

Historically, I have a huge lunch on these days. So in this case, I find out what days these are going to be before the school year and add staff accordingly. Another example is the day before Thanksgiving, which is usually a 30 percent increase over most Wednesdays. Still, even with this method, I can’t explain why some random days are just terrible and others are great. Someone told me once it had to do with paydays. Someone else blamed lunar cycles. The bottom line: Careful monitoring and comparison to historical data help a lot.  

Jay Kupiszewski
Owner Operator
Booya’s Burgers, Burritos & Sports Bar
Collierville, TN

We track day-of-year sales from year to year at Murphy’s. We are highly consistent year in year out, but about once or twice a month we will end up with rogue nights. A particular Tuesday might double in sales or a Friday will go completely flat. What matters most though is ending up the month ahead in sales of that same month a year prior. Rogue nights are like entering a highway at the same time each day. Most of the time the traffic is consistent in its volume.

Nigel Leeming
Murphy’s 3 Guys BBQ
Hanover, NH

For years I kept meticulous track of weather, temperatures and more in an attempt to predict customer traffic. Fuggetaboutit! My first restaurant was a neighborhood tavern with good quality, reasonably priced fare. Because we had a nice blend of regular and occasional customers, some of our busiest days were during inclement weather. Most of our clientele could walk to the restaurant and hang out with their neighbors. Other than that, no patterns held true.

Michael Duke
Andrew’s Gourmet
Darien, CT

As an old timer (35 years in operations and still going) I still believe it’s a lack of ownership and hospitality mentality. That mentality brings a sense of building sales one guest at a time. I also go out to eat a lot and I can count on one hand the amount of times a manager/owner has come up to start a conversation with me about why I am there, where I live, how my kids did at the soccer/football/basketball game. Sometimes they come over when there is an issue, many times they don’t. And sometimes they come by with the robotic “How is everything tonight?” as they sail by. The Cheers mentality still works wonders if you can get your team on board.

Brian Johnson
Director of Operations
Thompson Hospitality
Reston, VA

How can you go from a full house and do three turns on a Friday night to maybe half a house on Saturday? Well welcome to the University of South Carolina football season. People either sit in their garages and watch the game on their wide screen televisions or tailgate at the game. But what’s surprising is that if the local teams are losing or doing poorly the flood gates open and we are off to the races. The good news is once you establish yourself and grow your clientele big enough, the impact is not as painful.  

Jason Clark
BIN 112 on Trade Street
The Strip Club 104, a steak house
Greer, SC
Regarding the article Where Are Your Customers, I often wonder if customers telephone each other and either say “go out” or “don’t go out.” It must be something like that, because how do they all know not to come in when the weather is beautiful and the place is packed when the rain is pouring down?

Tony Marlow
Golden Lion Cafe
Flagler Beach, FL

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