Why new restaurants often serve only dinner at the start

July 1, 2016
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July 21, 2016

Opening a restaurant can take months, if not years. When it does open, chefs and owners are obviously hoping to start making money as soon as possible. But in a move that seems contradictory, many of them hold off on offering certain meals for weeks or longer. Why not debut full service when the buzz is still high?

It’s a smart play to stagger the debut of meals, because nailing down one service is hard enough – Obviously we’d all like to enjoy the revenue of being open. But many restaurant owners believe they owe it to guests, not to mention staff, to perfect one meal before rolling out the rest.

You have to “walk before you run”. Dinner service typically precedes lunch because the former generally has more guests and thus more revenue.

The additional months give the owner time to analyze what’s selling well and what needs to be tweaked before debuting an additional seven meal slots. It also gives a restaurant an opportunity to do a wider market analysis and check out what’s going on in other neighborhoods between the hours of 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. What does the community need? What is the community not being offered now?

Another restaurant offers lunch available Friday through Sunday only, meaning the remaining afternoon slots can be used for training staff and addressing diner feedback.

For another owner of a restaurant in Ballston, staggering meal debuts gave them time to overcome the new space’s physical challenges. In a layout dramatically different their other restaurants, they wanted to look at the flow, specifically making sure servers weren’t walking more than they had to, taking extra trips or getting in customers’ way. They also were interested in seeing where supplies would best be stored and how to bus tables in an elegant way.

Restaurateurs can’t drag out the delay too long, though. It can be important to add meal services before the initial buzz dies down.

There’s always a concern about staying relevant, especially after the post-opening honeymoon period. But the risk is one most are willing to take. Too many restaurants open with everything at once, and then everything is mediocre. It’s a cutthroat business, and if you don’t do it right . . . you can fail.

Washingtonpost.com, 7-13-16

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