Anyone brave/unconventional with their opening hours?

Discussion in 'Professional Chefs' started by recky, Jan 24, 2015.

  1. recky


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    I'm well into my forth year of operating and cheffing at my small "seasonal & regional" restaurant in a day trip, cycling and hiking tourist destination, a village that gets busy to extremely busy from April to October and quiet from November to March. Business has steadily grown since we started, and it's likely to increase further. We've also worked hard to attract the locals in order to make it through the slow periods, increasingly successfully, too.

    The first two and a half years we opened our doors from noon till 10 pm, six days a week, with all the usual ramifications - no private life, 12-16-hour working days, the lot, regardless of whether or not we were making money during some of those hours. Doing what everybody else is doing was the order of the day. After a bit of a burn-out threat, it dawned on me that maybe I should reconsider our business hours, for both health and financial reasons. I reviewed the figures as well as the subjective "feel" for which hours and days were worth our while and which were not. I found that our food was "evening food"; the vast majority of tourist round here tend to go for quick snacks round lunchtime, and there is plenty of competition in that field.

    After a lot of humming and harring, I eventually decided to drastically cut our business hours: We stayed closed for weekday lunch and afternoon services, and in the winter season we introduced a second day off (Mondays and Tuesdays). I also started closing the kitchen at 9 pm.

    So now we're open 5:30 to 9 pm (we won't kick people out, but we rarely work past 9:30) every day except days off, as well as Saturday and Sunday lunches, 12 to 2:30. On summer weekends we will often keep cooking all afternoon, occasionally closing the kitchen for 30 minutes before evening service starts to get our mise ready.

    I was extremely hesitant to do this as every other food outlet in the area is putting in all the hours one is "supposed" to do as a restaurant in a tourist region, on the off-chance that a group of hikers may drop in, or for the three customers per month that might get the munchies after 9 pm. To my great surprise and relief, business has since kept growing, as well as our net profit!

    With hindsight this all seems common sense now, but for much too long I was in the treadmill that many of my colleagues in the region don't seem to even realise - demonstrating presence and burning money doing it.

    Has anyone else experienced something like that? Been "brave" enough to steer off the beaten track and focussing on shorter, yet quality, service hours? And as a result, improved food quality, inspiration (for want of a better word) and work-life balance?

    I started this restaurant with a sound, interesting and unique (to the region) concept but ended up with tunnel vision. Having implemented those changes I feel a lot better and more successful. Not that I'm getting rich - that's hardly gonna happen with a small restaurant business - but I feel a lot more content now. And the figures bear this out.


    Last edited: Jan 24, 2015
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  2. fablesable


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    Retired Chef
    Heya Recky,

    I feel happy to hear that you are successful with less hours and more down time. This is the ultimate balance I find is needed in our industry and it allows for a more imagination, drive and energy to be able to come up with new and interesting menu options. 

    I consulted on two businesses that were what we called an "occasional restaurant" idea. One was in the Lake District in the UK which has the same issues as you describe in your neck of the woods. We pared it down to the local demographics, local activity time of the village and tourist activity and time of year. We were doing close to the same hours as you are now and was laughed at by some of the local hotel executive chefs as a foolish venture, however the business is still going strong and the village now has a year round following with the Christmas season bringing in a good profit. (We were the first ones to be open around Christmas as there were still a lot of people that would go for walks and have nowhere to stop to get a bite to eat and a hot drink)

    The other business was in Edinburgh and they had started as a catering business but as their catering was getting busier they had to rent a larger workspace. They ended up renting this cool old brick building for cheap as it was a fixer upper, retro-fitting it with a great room with and an amazing kitchen for all of their catering. In order to pay for the overhead and not lose money when not catering we came up with the idea to make the venue into an occasional restaurant with only two weekends a month open and a high end full service menu and wine paring. We were  booked up for these weekends months in advance. It was wonderful!

    So I truly am a huge advocate for thinking outside the box! Glad to see I am not the only one /img/vbsmilies/smilies/smile.gif

  3. chefross


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    Former Chef
    Know that you are not alone Recky.

    Your restaurant is like countless others all over the place.

    Your first few sentences describing your place sounds just like what it's like here in my neck of the woods.

    Seasonal from May to October and dead the rest of the time.

    I too, live in a destination location and suffer the same plights.

    On a Friday night in July there'll be 200-250 at the fish-fry

    2 nights ago this past Friday night......not one car in the lot.

    Just like yourself, one place decided to break away from the pack but they switched over to being open 7 days a week for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

    They open at 7:00 and close at 9:00. Nobody can understand how they can keep that place open as there is no business.
  4. chefwriter


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    Professional Cook
         Smart move, Recky. We used to be open 7 days for breakfast and lunch. Partner felt it necessary for public perception. But there is always a financial cost in simply being open and if the receipts don't add up, you are losing money.

         Partner got sick, I got exhausted and ended up closing Monday. Still went in for payroll and maintenance but no longer as exhausted. 

    "Demonstrating presence" as you so aptly put it, if not financially rewarding, makes no business sense.

          The common sense you found in hindsight is an interesting phenomenom of learning and adjusting accordingly. And as you have found, you get this by focusing on what works for your particular business model, not what everyone else seems to be doing.  
  5. westbigballin


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    Line Cook
    Sounds like you got it all down.

    At my restaurant it's the complete opposite. We are absolutely rockin' in the summer--imagine being the nearest restaurant with a full bar next to premium sporting venues (especially ones that host NCAA events [read: no alcohol sales in the venue]). Since August, all we've heard is "don't worry, it's going to be slow" from the corporate brass, but we still continue to be extremely busy to the point where we're actually understaffed now. Thankfully, our "slow" period is starting to wind down as warmer weather nears and hopefully corporate brass will give us more help--especially when the basketball arena that seats 18k next door hosts a weekend of March Madness games.
  6. lieutenantjimda


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    Professional Chef

    Good job on identifying the money making hours and going for it, it takes guts for sure. I workown a restaurant in a seasonal location in Alaska and hd similar thoughts. We are closed Sunday/Monday for lunch and dinner and closed Tuesday for lunch. Lunch is from 11-3:30 and dinner is 4:30-9:00. Instead of 14 services a week we only have 9. This affords us a break to look forward each week and really does help with burn out.  The summer rush of tourists is a grind like i hadn't experienced working down south. They never stop coming and they are needy as hell.  Instead of trying to accommodate all the new dietary trends and remain open, as you said for those after 9 stragglers, who are the same people as the just before 9:00 customers who just want to eat as late as possible so they wait till just before 10 if you allow them, I have adopted the polite but firm attitude of "We do what we can, and we do it really well, so sort of take it or leave it." I thought it was a risk and worried about it hurting business but it was just the opposite. It created the vibe that the food is great and they better get in and get it while they can. We have almost no slow hours while we are open. Business increased with profit. The same people come and eat in less amount of time.  I don't think adding the extra services would increase profit for us, just spread them out.

    Good Luck,