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Critical Focus Needed on Local Restaurants

22 April 2024

The famous Greek Philosopher, Socrates once said, “The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new." That statement has never been truer than today as we look at the state of the restaurant business today. In many local communities around the country, restaurants are forced to close. Those local restaurants that haven’t closed are either near their breaking point or approaching that point quickly.  If there ever was a time to yell, “all hands-on deck”, now is the time in the restaurant business.


If you get the impression this column is a call to arms for your entire community, that would be indeed true. While maybe not true 100% of the time, it is safe to say restaurants have historically suffered due to poor management and have in most cases already closed their doors. What is left today are restaurants that have resilient management yet are being buffeted by the economic conditions beyond their control.


When I say the words “all hands-on deck”, I am calling the entire community to task. Now is the time for each of us to step-up and be a true community leader in this effort. Don’t get the wrong impression, this must be a two-tiered approach, one by the community at large and the other buy the restaurants themselves. Knowing that, let’s take a quick look at what we can do immediately. 


First, everyone in the community needs to commit to frequenting their local restaurants more than they might normally have done. When you are thinking of visiting a national chain for a meal, make a conscious decision to visit a local restaurant instead. Nothing against national chains, but most have deep pockets on a national level to weather economic downturns, your local restaurants do not. Remember when you spend at locally-owned, each dollar spent will be multiplied throughout your community 3-7X more than the national chain. This effort helps to save your local restaurants and also places your community on a more solid footing. In a community of 20,000, just one extra visit a month, per person, spending only an average of $20/pp equates to $400,000 each month floating through the community, or $14,400,000 per year based on only compounding 3X. How many local restaurants and jobs will that save over the next year?


Secondly, every local resident should either individually or as a family adopt a locally-owned restaurant. By adopt, we mean take them under your wing and frequent them often, get to know the owner and let them know you care about them and want to see them flourish. When you get to know the owners of locally-owned restaurants and any business for that matter, you learn they are your friends and neighbors. It becomes so much easier to help friends and neighbors in their time of need. Imagine 20,000 residents adopting a locally-owned restaurant?


Locally-owned restaurants also need to be in tune with their customer base. If your town is full of lunchtime sandwich shops, that isn’t fulfilling the needs of your community. My community is a great example, we have many sandwich shops, but are forced to leave our community if we want a nice quiet atmosphere with linens on the table coupled with a nice steak. The community leaders need to work with local entrepreneurs and/or restaurants to develop locally-owned restaurants that meet the needs of the entire community. If all the local places close at 2-3PM, they are missing out on 70% of the restaurant business.


I could write another complete column of additional ideas a local community might incorporate into their local restaurant survival plans, but I suspect many communities have plenty of bright and forward-thinking people able to expand upon this list. Years ago, I used a quote that I will repeat, “Every time you spend money, you are casting a vote for the kind of world you want.”  Now is the time to cast that vote for your locally-owned restaurants.


One of the most critical elements to a successful community’s ability to win this economic war is the cooperation with their local media. This an opportunity for the local media to shine, the local media must take this effort to heart and make a difference in their community. When the local media provides the education, reporting, interviews and marketing push to make this happen, the community along with the locally-owned restaurant businesses will be grateful. The local media needs a vibrant locally-owned business base to survive, what better a project than this in time of crisis for both the restaurant businesses and the local media companies?


John Newby is a nationally recognized Columnist, Speaker, & Publisher. He consults with Chambers, Communities, Business & Media. His “Building Main Street, not Wall Street,” column appears in 60+ newspapers and media outlets. As founder of Truly-Local, he assists chambers, communities, media, and businesses in creating synergies that build vibrant communities. He can be reached at: John@Truly-Local.org.