“If the food is good, people will come.”
That’s what the owner of my favorite restaurant in Baltimore would say. It’s also what led to the downfall of his business.
I had a job as a hostess when I was in high school. The restaurant was standard Italian fare, tucked away in an unassuming shopping center with a grocery store on one side and a dry cleaning business on the other. If you hadn’t heard of it, you would never know it existed. If you had, you knew why it was coined one of the best eateries in Maryland.
The pasta was made in-house and the sauces were always delectably creamy. The pizza was the perfect ratio of cheese, tomato sauce and pizza dough, something many famous Italian chefs have yet to master. For a long time, we were booked for reservations from Thursday to Sunday to the point where walk-ins would have to wait hours to sit. It wasn’t hard to understand why this restaurant was always teeming with eager customers: the food was good.
A few years later, reservations started dwindling. The booths weren’t as full as they once were, and the only customers I would see were regulars who had been coming in for Friday night dinners for years. It was clear the restaurant was in danger of going out of business. The waitstaff and the kitchen workers were starting to get nervous for their jobs, and every question fielded to the owner would be dodged with a, “We’re fine, don’t worry about it.”
“If the food is good, people will come,” held less and less water. Our food was good, and the people weren’t coming. Meanwhile, I noticed many restaurants in the area starting to use Google, Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms to market their businesses. They were even passing out coupons and flyers for their different cuisines – all online.
I couldn’t understand why I’d never see our restaurant featured in any type of marketing effort. It was clear we needed to do something if that perfect pizza was going to continue being enjoyed by the Maryland masses.
I asked our owner about advertising the business and investing some money to see a bigger boost in customers. He wasn’t interested. He didn’t see any value in spending money on a return he couldn’t immediately see. I heard the same: “If the food is good, people will come.” And that was the end of the conversation.
A few months later, I get a call from a fellow co-worker telling me the restaurant had closed in the middle of the night. There was no meeting with the owner or final notice that the restaurant was closing. He packed up a U-Haul in the middle of the night and drove away, never to be heard from again.
The day I heard the restaurant had closed was the day I decided to pursue a career in marketing. Simply having the best homemade bread and butter is no longer enough in the food industry. How will people know about it?
With hundreds of restaurants opening every day, business owners need to be proactive in getting customers through the door and spend time and dollars on advertising. The same is true for emerging brands within the food service industry. If your restaurant concept has earned a bit of funding, you’re growing at a solid rate and you’re interested in bringing the business to a new level, it’d be simply preposterous to think you can achieve it in any way other than putting yourself out there in the way of marketing or advertising. In fact, it’s hard to believe you’ve gotten this far without it!
If the owner had invested in any type of advertising — online, print or another avenue — I have no doubt that his business would still be thriving.
And I’d still be eating delicious pasta.