Need Help With Failing Restaurant

Junior Burger
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2006/05/28 02:41:24 (permalink)

Need Help With Failing Restaurant

Hello all. I'm a new member to RoadFood, and I need help...Lots of it.

Ok, background first.

Bought restaurant as turnkey package in September 2005. Full menu, full bar, full staff, full inventory. Paid $75K. Small, 56 table seats, 7 bar seat store with very small kitchen. Auxillary kitchen separate from restaurant, about 25x40 with no appliances other than our freezers. Business is owner financed over 3 years. Sunk $25K into a down payment with $1000 monthly payments thereafter. Rent, $3200 per month. ABC license included with sale, as it was a corporate sale, not sole proprietor sale. We are doing about $30K gross per month, with about 8000 payroll per month. Spending about $12K in food per month. Our menu is diverse (probably too diverse), offering pizza, pasta, seafood, and steaks, with a wide variety of appetizers and desserts. 67 total items on menu. We bought the restaurant under a different name, and changed it and the menu in January. All seemed well after the name change, got rave reviews, and it seemed like we were doing well. We actually made some money in the first couple of months. But as time went on, business slowly declined. We kept our advertising up, in the newspaper, radio, and various other media.

Our area is essentially ghetto. There are quite a few upper-middle-class neighborhoods around here that we draw the majority of our clientel from, but it seems that the ghetto-ness of the area drives them away. We should have thought about that before we bought the business, but hey, hindsight is always 20/20 right?

Now to the present.

We are having trouble making payroll, paying our broadliner, and business has declined quite a bit. We've gone from having $45K months to having, as I said before, $30K months. With summer kicking in, it seems that we should be doing a little better than that. We've cut back our payroll, other miscellaneous expenses, and we're still not making the grade. We've gone over the idea of getting a loan, changing the menu somewhat, and trying to turn the place around, but it seems like there is no light at the end of any of the possible tunnels. We've (when I refer to 'we', I mean my brother and me.) almost turned to the idea of a Funny Farm (1988 movie with Chevy Chase, in case you don't recognize the name) scenario, where we make the restaurant look as appealing as possible, and sell it as quickly as possible, and recoup at least some of our losses.

What I need is advice. I need all the advice I can get. I'm at a dead end, and I don't have much left to throw at this restaurant, mentally or monetarily. Do we try to get a loan and turn it around; or do we cut our losses and move on? My brother and I both stand to lose our houses if this doesn't work, so the consequences are crucial.

If anyone has any advice, thoughts, or reccommendations, I would love to hear them.


18 Replies Related Threads

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    RE: Need Help With Failing Restaurant 2006/05/28 04:46:47 (permalink)
    Well, first let me tell you that I feel really bad for you. Maybe your location is the problem. My last restaurant was in a serious white collar community north of Boston. Monday nights we had a 1-hour wait, Fridays and Saturdays, a 3-hour wait. We all made money galore.

    Try changing your menu to your clientele?? If they're downscale, then downscale your menu. If they're upscale, then upscale your menu. At the time, nobody believed me when I said we could do nachos, hamburgers and striped bass and filet mignon and rack of lamb on the same menu. My thought being, the guys after basketball are going to come to the restaurant for a brew (we had over 24 on tap) and a snack, but then come back with wives, friends, etc. for fine dining the next night. The whole idea is to get your clientele to get in there and spend money at least three times a week. The whole menu morphed from pub food to fine dining. Give them what they want to eat. The owner spent about $1 million into a 90-seat restaurant. We generally did $11,000 on a regular night.

    Do you have a good chef? Good kitchen staff? Good dining room manager? These are your key ingredients. Bartenders that don't give drinks away?

    Get a chef that will work 100 hours a week (like I did for years) and you won't have a problem.

    Double Cheeseburger
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    RE: Need Help With Failing Restaurant 2006/05/28 07:13:47 (permalink)
    first, i want to say welcome to the biz. yea, its tough, but if ya love it, ya stick with it.
    you and your brother need ot sit down and crunch numbers. ihope, you did this in the beginning. the objective is to find that crucial sales figure, that pays all your bills, but leaves you eating left-overs. break down your costs into, paper, janitorial, office, beverage, alchohol, fixed expenses, utilities, required take-home, labor, insurance, e.t.c., until every check ever writne, has a place. and give us some percentages. you can shave here and there, and help make each category more streamline, which will help your bottome line. thats what your after, the almighty bottom line! i think you should be comfortable, even with 30k sales.
    there are many things, you have to do at once. just when you thought you were tuckered out, you got to do more.
    ok, now from a customer's point of view, why is sales slipping? is it the food, the service, the atmosphere, the price, the location, or....did something else open up under your noses, that you werent aware of, stealing your thunder?
    you said you were advertising, well, i say change your venue. what ever it is, it aint working, so dont throw another penny in that bucket! advertising doesnt have to be that expensive. its summer, and kids are looking for summer work. make up flyes, coupons, lunch specials, what ever, hire a bunch of bike riding kids, and have the go door to door,to spread the flyers. also contact your local t.v. do trade offs, for advertising. they are always looking for someone to cater their sales meetings, and are willing to trade for air time...ahhhhh catering, is a way to help increase your sales....hmmm

    i want to look at your payroll issue. 8g a month is exessive,imho.
    last month, my wife and i did 15k in sales. our payroll was zero!
    you either have some high paid staff, or they dont know how to spell the
    u suggest you look at the structure of your staffing positions, as well as you menu structure. you may want to combine positions, to streamline you staff. for instance, your prep cook can double as you dish washer. or you could eliminate prep all together, and have the cooks come in an hour early, and prep. yea, that works, just ask dennys. drop the door hostess, and have servers greet and seat. even have them cashier, if you want, but i recommend you or the bro do that. last chance to find out how the customer experience was, and ask them for their ideas. they usually know why other people dont come back, you just got to figure out how to pry it from them.
    i would restructure the menu as well. first, you must know the food cost of each of those 67 items on the menu. drop the highestfood cost items that are low ticket items. for instance, if you offer a dessert that is nearly 50 percent food cost, gone!
    but that steak, that runs like 70 percent food cost, you gotta keep it, cause it brings in a 4 or 5 dollar profit from one plate, even though its high food cost.
    also, put the items you want to sale, on the first page of the menu.
    have a separate lunch quickie menu.
    i suggest lunch delivery to big office buildings..
    one thing i havent wrote about is thievery. watch it like a hawk. if a dishwasher, or someone takes home a few steaks, there goes your payday. keep a tight inventory, and count pizza boxes, too.

    i hope this help.....good luck chris!
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    RE: Need Help With Failing Restaurant 2006/05/28 16:43:40 (permalink)
    I agree with almost all of Bassrockers post except for the part about being comfortable with the 30,000.00 in sales. The average restaurant net profit is only 10-12%. If you and your brother are trying to live off of 1500.00 a piece...that's not great money...and that's assuming you are making a 10% net profit. I have to ask....what positions are you and your brother filling? Your payroll percent is high compared to ours...but we are a partnership....therefore our net profit is our living. Perhaps you are writing yourselves paychecks? The food cost might be trimmed...but with your varied menu and the "waste" you must assume...40% is not drastic to me. But I think with proper managing you could trim it to 35. That would put another 1500.00 on your bottom line. I agree with Bassrocker....better be watching your employees like a hawk. Theivery will kill you. At one time our coffee cost jumped by 30.00 a month. Why? We had an employee taking the coffee filters home. We starting issueing them 10 at a time...when they returned us 10 used we issued 10 more. It's crazy how the "little" things will eat up your profit. My first suggestion would be for you to do "customer appreciation". In other words...kiss the xxxx's of the customers you have now. Make sure every one knows how much they are appreciated. Give them every reason to come back more often. They are your gold right now. They are the ones supporting you. Make them happy and word of mouth will spread. We have had our restaurant for six years as of the first of June. There have been hard times! We are located in a small town. But we've made it....and it is getting easier. We have never spent one cent on advertising. We have just done everything we can to please the ones that walk in the door. Good luck. Let us know what jobs you and your brother are doing now....perhaps you need to be doing something different. Who accounts for your food cost? Are you actually taking inventories? Did you have any experience in the field before you bought this place? Maybe if you told us a little more we could help more. I'm sorry I wrote a book saying this much...and I'd be glad to say more if you're interested!
    Dr of BBQ
    Filet Mignon
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    RE: Need Help With Failing Restaurant 2006/05/28 16:46:31 (permalink)
    How is your restaurant doing? Do you sell or have things improved?
    Double Chili Cheeseburger
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    RE: Need Help With Failing Restaurant 2006/05/28 17:26:18 (permalink)
    hi chris,

    welcome to!

    the restaurant biz is tough...but you don't need me to tell you that. there is already some great advice/questions in this thread. I hope you find some ideas and suggestions that are beneficial to your biz.

    I've never owned a restaurant but I have owned MANY businesses over the years. My best advice would mirror what has been said:

    1)Check your expenses. there are always ways to cut expenses, (ask your accountant. if you dont have one with good restaurant exeperience...get one).

    2)Watch for employee theft. (they can remove all of your profit if you are not on top of this every moment of every day).

    3)Work your backside off...then...get to work. THIS IS HARD WORK. But the potential payoff can be tremendous.

    Nothing is easy. Especially when your home and family are at risk. But working harder and smarter usually will plow you through.

    I believe this can work out for you and your brother.

    Double Chili Cheeseburger
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    RE: Need Help With Failing Restaurant 2006/05/28 17:32:31 (permalink)
    hey chris...just noticed you were in norfolk.

    where are you located? i spent many years there.

    send me a pm or email if you're interested in talking about locations/food/etc. for that market.
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    RE: Need Help With Failing Restaurant 2006/05/30 15:27:25 (permalink)
    I do not own a big resturant. But I do remember my Mom always tellng me,"Son, never put good money to bad money". With that in mind I would nix the possibility of getting a loan. You could double your trouble. Just a thought. The other post seem to have some really good business based ideas. Thanks for the post, I am sure you will see the game thru. Welcome to the board.
    Double Chili Cheeseburger
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    RE: Need Help With Failing Restaurant 2006/05/30 16:09:54 (permalink)
    A store in a ghetto? Figure out an exit policy.
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    RE: Need Help With Failing Restaurant 2006/05/30 23:14:38 (permalink)
    myway hit the nail on the head.
    cut your loses
    close it down
    try again in another location after much soul searching
    Double Cheeseburger
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    RE: Need Help With Failing Restaurant 2006/05/31 07:35:23 (permalink)
    hey, you dont have to close it down. its just a bump in the road! if your sales were down to like 15k, then yea, close it down. question.... are you and the brother working full time jobs at the restaurant, in positions? are you drawing your salary from you hours worked prepping cooking and serving, or from managing?
    doesnt matter whee you are, just know your market, and appeal to it. our little place aint exactly in fairy land.....
    summe doesnt mean more business, sometimes it means less. are there colleges near you that you draw business from? well, they are mostly empty in the summer... teachers and pupils on vacation. many families doing summer things, will change your sales drastically for summer. we had our last hooray, week of memorial day. we expect slow sales til fall. just the nature of the beast, and it depends on your market. if you need more sales, go get it! otherwise, trim the fat, and you will do fine! yes you can make it fine, on 30k, but you got to carry your load as well. with 8k labor, you can probably do alot of the work, and cut your labor down to 6k. hey, you just made 2k salary!
    one thing for sure, if you quit, you will never make it!
    definitely no loan! just cut cut cut........
    Double Chili Cheeseburger
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    RE: Need Help With Failing Restaurant 2006/05/31 12:01:50 (permalink)
    Put Chicken Fingers on the Menu that should do the trick.Kidding aside I am in the same boat as you.Ive had Restaurants on the beach for thirty years and now Ive moved inland and the Tourists just wont leave the beach.Some do but not most.
    But at least this place is mine.Theres alot of good advice here,and I for one will heed it.
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    RE: Need Help With Failing Restaurant 2006/05/31 12:35:35 (permalink)
    Had a BBQ man that was about 5 miles from me in a crappy location go out of business and he wanted to blame me because I have a good location and took his potential customers. My advice to him was to find a product that was SPECIAL! I mean really special. People will drive for special. They'll go out of there way to get special, but they won't for something they find most anywhere.

    I would probably revamp my recipes to start with. Even though you may think they are great, they're probably not because they apparently are not moving. Put items on the menu that those folks can afford and like, and make it special!
    Filet Mignon
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    RE: Need Help With Failing Restaurant 2006/05/31 12:46:11 (permalink)
    If your business has dropped by 1/3 ($45K to $30K per month) in 8 months or so, there's a reason and if I were you I'd do what I could to find out what it is. The "ghetto location" hasn't changed although maybe something about the neighborhood has (crime rate etc). But the problem is most likely something about the way you are running the place has alienated long-time customers and possibly you could undo it. I've never run a restuarant but I've seen lots of restaurants I visit change hands and turn into something I like less--in which case I stop going. It just happened to my favorite Thai place. And if you are in an inconvenient location for most of your customers, once you lose them they are gone. Then your only option becomes a radical make-over trying to win new customers from the neighborhood you are in.

    How do you find out what's the problem? The simplest way is to ask. Find a simple way to ask the customers you still have what they like or don't like about the place. This could be anything from your walking around, identifying yourself to customers and telling them you are looking for ways to improve the place and do they have any ideas to a "suggestion box" to something I haven't thought of. Even better, of course, would be if you could ask the folks who don't come any more but I don't see how you would have the ability to contact them, invite them back (maybe with a coupon) and ask why they haven't been coming in.
    Junior Burger
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    RE: Need Help With Failing Restaurant 2006/06/12 08:45:29 (permalink)
    Hi Chris,

    I really feel sorry for you. Hope the situation has improved by now. We have gone through this phase ourselves and understand it.

    You have already received some good advice; however, I would like to add the following based on my own experience.

    (1)Reduce the number of items on menu. Concentrate on what sells better.

    (2)You say you initially drew majority of your clients from upper-middle class neighbourhood and you suspect that they may have stopped patronizing because of the ghetto location of your restaurant. ---- Have you considered delivering your food to the clients in those upper-middleclass neighbourhood; instead of bringing them in to your restaurant? If Your food quality is good and service is prompt, your location will not matter if you do the delivery. You can do some targeted marketing (instead of general newspaper, radio etc.). For example, door-to-door or general distribution of flyers and Delivery Menus.

    I have fairly good experience in marketing takeout/delivery joints. If you need any particular advice in this regard , please send me an email/PM.

    Wishing you all the best

    Junior Burger
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    RE: Need Help With Failing Restaurant 2006/06/16 11:08:59 (permalink)
    My thoughts.
    Higher gas prices hurt business.
    Gas prices increase food costs and just about everything else and you can't adjust your menu prices on a daily basis.
    Open later close earlier. No sense paying staff when there is no business.
    Look at your lag time and adjust your work schedule to that.

    Double Chili Cheeseburger
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    RE: Need Help With Failing Restaurant 2006/06/17 15:27:43 (permalink)
    Allright Chris, here's the bottom line. I agree with most of what was said on this thread. Do you run daily specials suited to your location? Being in the "Ghetto" so to speak should not significantly affect your business as you can try to tailor your menu to your clientel. Hire a consultant to help to establish
    what your needs are. Streamline your payroll to reflect your sales. Hire a Great Chef who has experience using everything that is in the pantry and walk-in. That will help cut your food cost as he will know how to utilize ingredients to their maximum potential. Make sure that your wait staff is friendly and knowlageable about what is being served. Maybe give them a taste so they can be more helpful in recomending items to customers. They are more likly to recomend something they like and be excited to tell your customers about it. Also look at costs of delivery. The cost of gas has risen dramaticly so many purveyers have shifted that cost to you. Can you get it any cheaper by picking up the items your self? Lastly I agree with the advise of so many of the other posters here that you need to keep an eye out for potential theft from your employees (not a nice thought but it does happen)
    Hope every thing works out and good luck. Keep Grinding!
    Junior Burger
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    RE: Need Help With Failing Restaurant 2006/06/22 16:10:38 (permalink)
    Hi Chris,
    Boy, have I been in your shoes! All the above have good advice. Especially the one about delivery. If safety is the issue with your customers this would take care of that problem.
    One thing that works for us is a five dollar lunch special. We are in a small town and a lot of our customers are elderly so this five dollar special is aimed at their pocketbooks. It is also a reasonable price for the factory workers nearby. It doesn't have to be anything fancy, just a simple filling meal. Sometimes ours is just a cheeseburger, fries, slaw, and a small drink, or in the winter, soup, sandwich and salad. Thing is if four people come in to eat, maybe only one will get the special, the others order full price meals etc.
    I think that is a good idea with the flyers also, maybe you could include a coupon on it good for a free soft drink, or 10% off a dinner for two. Everyone likes a bargain! What about hotels/motels in your immediate area? Would they let you put brochures/flyers in their rooms if you offer their customers a discount? I can tell you that newspaper advertising is pretty much a waste of money as is radio.Hardly anyone notices ads in a paper unless they are really ones that jump out at you! Are there billboards on major highways near you that you could rent? I know they are a great expense but they also bring in a lot of customers.
    What I do every month is make up a calendar with all my lunch specials on it. Then I mail them to the local surrounding businesses (insurance companies, realtors, banks, beauty shops, car dealers,etc,.) This serves two purposes, I am making contact with the community and I also know ahead of time what supplies I need for the week/month. Workers at these companies/businesses know ahead of time what we are having and can plan their lunches accordingly (they have to eat somewhere!). Our name and phone number are included at the top as we also do take out orders.

    I would look carefully also, as the person said above at your 67 items. that is a lot! Maybe cut out the not so great sellers and cut down on the apps and the desserts! Concentrate on the really good desserts and the best selling apps. The more items on the menu, of course, the more inventory and cost. Are you using the same suppliers as the previous owners? Has the quality of your food changed from your supplier?
    Is there a discount club like Sam's or Costco near you where you can take advantage of savings on stock items? I shop every week and have for almost six years, buying things like mayo, catsup, mustard, pickles, sugar, etc., that I can get cheaper than buying wholesale from the distributors. I use a lot of mayo, I can save over a buck a gallon just on that. I buy no less than four a week, and that pays for my gasoline. Anything else I save is extra savings for the business. I usually have my van full to the brim when I come back! These clubs offer a lot of services to help us "little guys". I know at Sam's you can fax your order in or do a click and pull on internet by 5 pm and they will have it all ready for you the next day. When you are swinging on a shoe string you have to grab every chance to save a penny that you can.

    You didn't say if you are open only for dinner or also for lunch. That amount for payroll would seem like a lot for only one shift of workers. If you aren't open for lunch, maybe that would be an option, with a limited menu and a daily special.

    I don't know if you have security cameras in your business but it would pay for itself over the years if you have some way of monitoring your staff for theft/waste. Excessive waste can be a killer too.

    Do you go out and "schmooz" with your customers? It helps! Just asking if everything is ok at least conveys you care and any conversation after that is a plus!

    Is the bar a draw? Would a rowdy crowd be affecting the dinner crowd? If you bought from a corp. there was a reason they were selling, maybe they had the same problems. I agree with everyone else, ask your customers. Put out comment cards on the tables, but be prepared for what they tell you. It is easy when you first start to be defensive when you get criticism. Been there done that!

    Another loan would probably be pouring good money after bad as the saying goes, until you find out what is causing the loss of business.

    I wish you nothing but good luck. This is a tough business. I certainly relate to the mental fatigue! Just dealing with staff is enough to bring that on, without all the other worries!
    Good Luck!
    Junior Burger
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    RE: Need Help With Failing Restaurant 2006/07/09 15:40:41 (permalink)
    Hi! Wondering how you are making out? I have been in the restaurant business for 17 years, albeit on the dining room floor, but I can tell you, I have built a lot of businesses from the ground up! I am a firm believer in CUSTOMER CONTACT! I am about to launch my own Front of the House training program and it is imperative that your Front of the House service staff be WARM AND WELCOMING! You can make or break a business without that. It is the feeling people get when they walk in the door that keeps them coming back. Have you done anything differently or changed some key front of the house employees that might have caused the decline? Do the customers who haven't come back miss the repoire they had with the previous owners? Did you keep that going? Were they hands on and always there? It makes a BIG DIFFERENCE when owners are there to MEET AND GREET. I am not an expert on food costs and bottom line number crunching, but I AM AN EXPERT on the Front of the House! I have customers that have been following me for 17 years. I have seen people's kids grow up! I have seen women pregnant and come in and now those kids are 7 and 8 years old! I love waiting tables! I love people! I love food! I love the hours! I love the freedom it affords me! And I make GREAT MONEY!! It comes from LOVING what I do!
    I have chosen it, I am not doing it as a secondary job or a filler. You need one or two KEY Front of the House EMPLOYEES to instill enthusiasm and care in the rest of your staff. YOU need to instill enthusiasm and care in them. It all starts at the top and the enthusiasm and discipline you instill. You need to create what I call "AN ABUNDANCE CULTURE" amongst your employees. Seems like you are now suffering from a "SCARCITY AND LACK" mentality and that is going to undermine your success. You are taking actions out of fear and that will always produce negative results. I am a life coach and I have studied prosperity extensively. If you bought this restaurant just to "make money," that isn't usually the way it goes. You have to LOVE doing something, not DREAD doing something in order to produce good results and steadily increase income. There is a wonderful woman, Patricia Farnham who has a website called She has an e-book for sale at $25 that is WORTH IT'S WEIGHT IN GOLD!!! Before I went to the bank for a loan, I would go online and order that e-book! The information in that file is unbelieveable! It's geared toward first time owners like yourself and I'm sure she would be more than happy to help you. SHE LOVES THE RESTAURANT BUSINESS as I do. I will do anything I can to help you. If you want a briefing on your sales staff or anything I can do to get you up off the ground, please feel free to contact me. I am "more than willing" to help you. It would be "my pleasure." Best of Luck! Don't lose the house and keep on truckin' until you figure it out! You have the input of tons of professionals above me in this thread and each and everyone of them said incredible things! They are all right and each and everyone of us is coming from our unique and individual view of what works for us in this industry and what we've been through. Take advantage of all the generosity that's been given to you and don't panic! Figure out what works for you AND WORK IT!! Take on a more realxed feeling and an ABUNDANCE MENTALIY, it will work itself out, it's just a "bump" in the road. There are down times in this business and in the mean time you need to "prepare" for the up times, they will be coming if you do the right thing by your customers AND STAFF! They are INVALUABLE to you so treat them right and give them all the support you can muster. They are YOUR FRONTLINE SALES TEAM!!! Give them the tools, "food knowledge training" (let them know what your best profit items are and run contests or incentives to sell them) Teach them to "upsell" not "oversell" and give them some good wine knowledge and encourage them to learn to sell premium liquor drinks. Knowing "precisely when to ask" for a refill will generate tons of income for both "you and them" and put your customers in a "wonderful" mood! Let me know what has happened! Again, all the best!
    Warm Regards!
    Devon Michael
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