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Monday, January 19, 2009

Who's Dining Out Mid-Week?

I spoke with a family member this weekend about the Saturday cooking shows, cookbooks, kitchen equipment and other post-holiday issues relating to food. Her husband is retired and they enjoy dining out. Typically, they avoid the packed dinner houses on Friday and Saturday nights. They prefer to go to restaurants on Sunday and Thursday evenings.

In her neighborhood, the two fantastic steak houses have closed in 2008. Since they enjoy steak when dining out, this is a disappointment. She asked me for some suggestions on steak oriented restaurant chains. As I recited the list of steak concepts, she stopped me several times to mention recent coupons for 2-for-1 meal offers. I asked if her two favorite spots had offered coupons. She said they both sent coupons toward the end - just before they closed.

Our local chapter of HFTP meets for dinner every month. At this month's meeting, I spent the meal with two women. One of the women dines out frequently mid-week due to long hours at work. A very successful local restaurant group opened a new location in her area about two years ago. I asked her how they are doing in the location near her home. She said they have lowered the menu prices and the quality has slipped from the excellent first year. "I wish they would charge a little more and improve the quality."

I tried to see if she was more likely to dine in a restaurant or go with a take-out order on work nights. She absolutely prefers to dine in the restaurant. Cleaning dishes, cold food and lack of ambiance taint her take-out experiences. She likes to cook when she has the time so most restaurants won't see her from Friday through Sunday. Mid-week is when she likes to go and try new menu items and taste new wines.

The local strip mall near my house has three businesses who have closed their doors. A gas station, a nail care salon and a casual dining restaurant have decided to find greener pastures elsewhere. On three occasions, I tried the casual dining spot for brief meals with business associates. We found the mid-week experiences very disappointing and on two occasions the waitress mentioned the chef was not on duty.

She wanted us to try again on the following evening since she does not work weekends. On our third try, we waited until the evening when the chef could be expected in the kitchen. On this final attempt to enjoy a mid-week meal at this restaurant, we were sold a special by our waitress. All of us ordered the highly recommended special. The completely mediocre rehashed entree insured none of us would ever step foot in this restaurant again.

So who is dining out mid-week in your operation? Do you serve seniors looking for a quieter meal, hard working executives who leave work too late to cook a meal, business associates discussing a new project or coupon shoppers taking advantage of your 2-for-1 mid-week specials? Do you have a mid-week strategy? How do you handle nights when the key kitchen employees have the night off?

It may be difficult to deliver an experience which would satisfy the needs of all these mid-week customers. The woman who wants better quality and is willing to pay will most likely find a spot where there are no coupon programs. The business associates will find a reliable spot to meet. Value diners will clip coupons and find plenty of 2-for-1 deals in my neighborhood.

Its important to pick your position wisely. Most operations will not be able to attract all these mid-weeks segments. Everyone can strive to be reliable and deliver quality meals.

1 comment:

Steve Gentile - said...

Joe - It is a tough time for everyone. From diners to operation owners, the business is not immune from the economic worries and concerns.
I enjoy going out on off-times for several reasons - the service tends to be better, as does the food in prep and presentation. Also, the owners have more time to pull up a chair and chat, share a drink, smile more.
Your attempts to get a good meal out of the kitchen are heard loud and clear - I tried the same thing with "prime beef" at a place I frequent often. With the cost so huge, the first time for me was difficult to send back - a very very bad cut poorly prepared. But I did. The second attempt that night came back with a minor improvement, consumed barely and enjoyed even less. A few weeks later, I tried again - with the same result. And stopped ordering it.
The shame was they used to have great cuts, well prepared and reasonably priced - the new pricing has made it difficult to "splurge" and when such sub-standard fare makes its way to my place, I am insulted and embarrased.
I know the owner rather well and spoke in confidence about the situation - only to get an ear-full about how he was losing money on dishes and couldn't stand to listen to people bitch about price.
I rarely visit now, and when I do order hard to mess up dishes that are not moneymakers for him - I am sure I am not alone, sad to say.

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