It happens all too often. A new restaurant comes to town (or maybe a new spot opens by local chefs). Hype ensues. Local bloggers attach themselves to the story. Buzz words like “homegrown,” “authentic,” “ethnic,” “local,” “natural,” and “gem” pop up in the stories. Usually, there is a very compelling story. Pick-me-up-by-the-bootstraps type of story. The community is called to come out and support the new homegrown, local, natural, authentic spot and make sure they make it in the big, bad city of box shops. However, when the community comes out to support, they are largely disappointed by the lack of creativity, hospitality, and oftentimes, the basic consistent quality of the food. The restaurant doesn’t make it. Local bloggers cry about how terrible the community is for not supporting a place with such a great story, completely leaving out the fact that the restaurant did not die because the community didn’t want it, the restaurant didn’t survive because ownership just didn’t produce what it takes to keep people coming back, which is essential in this industry.
Guys, when it comes to restaurants and the hospitality industry, there has to be more than just a story.
Look, I’m a writer and a sucker for a good story. I tell them all the time. However, when it comes to basing my opinion on restaurants, I’m not looking for a story. I’m looking for the answer to this fundamental question: does this place impress me? As a consumer, I want excellent hospitality, whether it comes from a mom-and-pop shop or a big-name brand. I’m paying for a quality experience, not for the chef’s biography.
The story matters. I’m not taking that away from anyone. If the FOH hospitality and the quality of the dishes are perfect, then the story will enhance any experience. Give me the story! After you ensure that your glassware is appropriate and your food tastes delicious, give me your story. I want to hear your story! I want to learn about how you made it when none of your peers could, or how you were the first person in your family to have a successful business. These are all impressive things for anyone! However, when it comes to my dining experience, the story may get me in the door, but I need more than that to fill my belly and keep me coming back.
As writers and storytellers, we can get lost. I say “we,” because I told you I’m a sucker for a story. We can get so excited to tell someone’s story, that we forget why we are telling it. Are we telling it because we think that the story equates to quality, or are we telling it because we want someone’s emotional response to turn him or her into a guilty consumer, drawn like a moth to the flame of a new trendy “authentic” restaurant with a story? Are you telling the story because you believe in the cause? If so, that’s fine. However, make sure your story is not laced with judgment for someone who may not adhere to your opinion.
Ah, the hidden element of the story. Some of these stories (the ones written to inspire guilt-laden visits to said establishment) are laced with judgment for those who do not subscribe to the inspiring story method. The judgment? You should be patronizing this restaurant instead of the big, bad brand names because this place has a story, and if you don’t like stories, then you are just not truly part of the community.
This is a lie. Please stop telling this lie.
Every single establishment in this city (and in each city) is a part of the community. Each and every person who works in every restaurant is a part of the community. From the busboys at (Big Name Steakhouse) to the owners of the newest pop-up, these are our people and our community. You don’t have to just visit small joints to support your community. You can also support your community by tipping your servers well at your local (This Chain is Everywhere) restaurant. And guess what? If you enjoy going to (Big Name Steakhouse) because they treat you well and make your steak right every time, do not let someone else’s story guilt you into stopping your support for your favorite spots that make you feel good when you are there. Dining out is about feeling good about where you are and what you are eating, and everyone has a different take on this. That is OK.
I’m a local girl with hopes that our city will not just be chain stores and big-name restaurants, but I also want to acknowledge the level of professionalism that goes into these scalable spots being so profitable. After all, isn’t the goal of any business to achieve success, or grow into something bigger and better? There is something to be said for consistent hospitality and quality equating to success (take note). I don’t care about the story if my experience is shit, to be frank. Unfortunately, it happens all too often in our city. Inconsistency kills in hospitality, so ensuring that there are elements to your restaurant that are impressive beyond the story on an everyday basis to each guest is paramount to not becoming… just another restaurant failure story.