Wet sales have overtaken dry at our restaurant, and drinkers are driving away the diners. Most of the locals now perceive us as a pub. Because of high overheads we can't immediately discourage drinkers, but how can we promote our image as a restaurant?
Chris Heard, Marlborough Leisure
First, you must ask yourself, "Am I in this business for the money, or is my lifestyle ambition to create and run a successful restauarant?" This will require a lot of soul-searching, but my feeling is that you're a restaurateur.
As a first step, upgrade your prices and offering. Consider removing most, if not all, of the pumps, and replacing session-style lagers with quality, premium products, especially real ale, and concentrate on bottled beers.
Second, improve the quality and range of your wine offering. Call in a specialist wine merchant. Your relaunch should be accompanied by some free tastings, preferably late afternoon or early evening, after which tasters may stay as paying customers.
Introduce an intermediary food range - small dishes of any style would do - which customers could enjoy before trying a full meal. The smaller dishes should be linked to your main meal range.
Next, switch off the television by 6.30pm to give diners priority. Diners are not comfortable with noisy drinkers close by. At the same time, alter the lighting and possibly place candles and/or decorations on the tables to make the room feel like a restaurant again. Some of the drinking customers might want to stay for an early dinner, but otherwise they will move on to another venue more conducive to noisy drinking.
Finally, remember that your priority is to earn a living by whatever style of trading the venue best supports, and if it's a relatively downmarket drinking establishment that provides maximum turnover and profit, bite your lip, maximise the trade and if you don't like it, sell and move on somewhere which will support your food ambitions.
Paul Davey, Davey & Co
To begin, I would carry out a thorough appraisal to establish why your trade has slipped from food sales into wet trade, as there must be clear reasons why this has happened. The results may lead you to question whether your unit is best suited to food as opposed to bar trade in the first place.
If you determine that the restaurant route is the correct course, then you will simply have to bite the bullet and accept that it will be at the expense of your drinkers' trade. This is an incredibly difficult decision, as you have to be sure you can handle the short-term transitional drop in revenue.
If you don't have the option of physically separating your bar trade from the restaurant, then introducing a non-smoking regime is probably the most effective way of immediately switching your trading environment from drinker-friendly to diner-friendly. You may also consider offering a specific "early bird" menu say, between 5pm and 7pm, with a limited, very competitively priced menu which is discernibly different to your evening service menu.
Apart from going non-smoking, consider also how you can make other changes which are immediately visually impactful, thereby clearly demonstrating that your business is changing direction. This doesn't need to include a full refit - wall colour changes, lighting and music all provide potential for substantial change at little cost.
Remember also that it may be possible to convert some of your drinkers to diners, thereby retaining a proportion of your existing trade, so consider offering them a discount voucher or similar loyalty bonus as an incentive for them to remain with you.
Chris Morton, Chris Morton Associates
A certain prime minister used to say, "The market will decide", and that appears to be what has happened here. Clearly there's something about your establishment that appeals to drinkers rather than diners.
I note your concern about making a sudden change because of overheads, but I don't see how a gradual change can be made. It's a drinkers' pub, a pub serving food, or a restaurant. The market needs a clear image of the business, and it's not one of a restaurant at present.
It sounds as though your personal desire is for a restaurant, so you first need to determine whether there's a market to support it. Examine your local area - who lives there, who works there, who passes by? What attractions are there in the area - entertainment and leisure facilities, for example, or even supermarkets that may draw people to the area? If possible, establish the demographic profile of local residents and match that with likely food preferences. In areas with limited population you may need a wider-ranging menu.
While engaged in the above, remember that the higher the quality you offer, the further people are likely to drive. Few travel far for an average burger, for example.
Now for the difficult bit - determine what resources are needed to relaunch your restaurant. It sounds as though these may need to cover a refurbishment or at least redecoration, new signage and some restyling to create a fresh image. Fresh marketing will also be required. Prepare a budget, be realistic on sales estimates and see if it all stacks up.
If not, the solution is to develop the business further as a pub, with or without food. If this doesn't appeal, build revenue and look for an early exit.