Friday Five- How to Support a New Restaurant

Posted by Kim Leonard with lots of help from Steve Skibbie

Zest California Grill during their soft opening 1/29. You can even see me in the corner, probably about to pounce on some sweet potato fries. (Photo from their Facebook)

We have all been there before- the hype, the excitement, the involuntary salivation upon hearing that a new restaurant will be opening soon. We rush to be there for opening day and then the newness wears off quickly as servers are bumping into each other as they rush past, the food arrives late or cold or never at all, the drink order is mixed up and no one bothers to clue us, the new patrons, in that we’re supposed to pay at the counter. It happens all the time, soft openings and first weeks are a tough-sell to a public that is quick to anger over even small things when it comes to the consumer experience. I would know, my husband has asked to speak with more managers than I have blood vessels in my cheeks to blush with.

How do we support these new businesses though, who, in all of their flurry of disorganized first week activity are trying to just get us to like them enough to come back when all of the bumps are smoothed over?  Here are a few of our tips to help you support a brand new eatery without driving yourself insane or stressing them out any further.

1. Block out plenty of time.  Don’t go try a new spot on your 30 minute lunch break, you’ll only end up frustrated and hungry as you storm out before you’ve even gotten your order in.  Especially if you try to do this during lunch rush.  Instead, clear your calendar for a few hours.  That way you won’t feel the pressure to get out of there quickly and if your food does come to you quickly it’s just an added bonus.  Whenever we try a new place we try to schedule out two hours of time.  We’ve found that by doing this we really enjoy our extended socializing time with one another and when the food arrives we get pretty excited as we tear into it.

2.  Be kind to the staff- they’re under a lot of pressure.  In many situations this is the first time the staff have really had to work together under this set of circumstances- even if a restaurant hired an entire staff based on them having prior experience they still all have to get into the rhythms of working together in a new place.  If they seem absentminded or like they’ve ignored you  it’s probably because they’re working through a million new things at once.

3. If the experience is great- blast it on social media- and follow their social media.  Instagram your gorgeous spicy tuna roll. Tweet that the mushroom panini is ridiculously good.  Get on Yelp and share how impressed you were with their diverse menu options and share a photo.  All of these things mean the world to a new business- word of mouth advertising is so free that it’s priceless.

4. If the experience isn’t great, give them a free-pass and come back at a later time. So you got your quesadilla 10 minutes before your friend’s pastrami came out, and another friend had to take their rice bowl to-go because it was so late.  Your server genuinely looked petrified as customer after customer called them over to complain and by the time they got to you, your request for the check, please had them choking back tears.  You’re at a very powerful crossroads here and your next move can build them up or break them down.  You can add your complaints to their list and Tweet out “OMG WORST LUNCH EVER.” or you can look them in the eye and say “It’s cool, can’t wait to see how things calm down in a few weeks when I come back.”

5. Get to know your server, the chef, the maitre d, the owner as people.  This is particularly important to us and is why we usually plan our visits to the new restaurants in our district in non-peak hours.  We want to know why they chose their location, what attracted them to work there, how long they’ve been doing what they do.  We love knowing that when we come back next time they’ll remember our names and we’ll have a relationship established with them.  Some of the nicest, sincerest people on the planet open restaurants or work as wait staff and some of the most passionate and interesting folks are behind the scenes in the kitchens.  They’re worth getting to know.

So there you have it- go forth and be great eaters and tryers of new things.  And if patience isn’t your bag (I understand if it isn’t- remember who I’m married to…) wait it out a few weeks before heading to the newest place in town.

May we suggest a few?

Zest California Grill– Grand opening February 4th

Mabel’s Kitchen– Opened January 21st

Umi Sushi– Opened January 7th


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