Archive for November, 2010

I truly wish that all hospitallity establishments in Spokane Valley could prosper and make their owners rich and happy. I especially wish that for the independent owners who have tried to create nice and fun places that are an expression of themselves. We the patrons are the beneficiaries of their creative efforts.

Take the Black Diamond, located at Sprague and Farr in the Valley, for example. For many years it was known as McQ’s and it was primarily a great pool hall but it always had potential to be a lot more. If I have my half-facts right, it was originally opened several years ago by one of the principals involved with the old Swackhammers on north Division. Then the guys who own the local Denny’s franchise ran it for several years before selling it a few years ago to an owner that was unable to make it prosperous.

Along come Steve and Kenna Lagault from San Francisco this summer with their own dreams and visions and pick up the place at a bargain price. I talked to them a few months ago right after they took over and Steve talked about knocking out walls and moving things around. I thought he had a lot of good ideas, but I wondered if he would really do it and how good it would turn out.

Turns out that it turned out amazing. Elaine and I were shocked when we went in to have a look last Saturday night. I could not believe that they went for it, got it done fast and did such a classy job. They now have a very tasteful and roomy dining area that opens to a nightclub with a stage and some of the coziest and classiest seating in the Valley. Over by the pool tables they’ve created a comfortable area to watch sports on their state-of-the- art flatscreens and they updated the bar.

So now we have been given a wonderful place to have a fun night out at. It really is a gift from two hard-working, imaginative and creative people who were willing to go for it and give us a new and exciting place. All that we have to do to repay them and have it available to us for years to come is to fulfill their dream by supporting them and packing it out.

But that has gotten to be a tall order for the Valley. Since last Spring, 4 places have opened up that are looking for the night scene as part of their business. You put those on top of the existing places and you probably have about six too many.

If somebody told me that I had to take any one of them over tomorrow and make it go, I would choose the Black Diamond. I don’t envy anyone in the local business, but I think Steve and Kenna have a good shot at making it go because of the thriving pool business they have going. That brings people in who can see what they’ve done and help get a buzz going.

They have done a phenomenal job remodeling. I just hope for our sakes as well as theirs that they are as good at building a crowd as they are at improving a building.

Black Diamond Sports Bar on Urbanspoon

1)You’ve Got to Motivate Them to Move
You are the new place. No one beyond a scarce few of your friends feels any loyalty to you and even they will not stick around past the first few weeks if you don’t give them good service, quality product and reasonable prices.
   There are only so many patrons out there and they  already have their favorite places and the new place is not one of them.
You’ve got to offer something  everyone else is not. Then once you’ve lured them in with a great special or novelty item, you’ve got to make them want to come back. Beyond that  it is imperative you make such an impression on them that feel compelled to invite their friends back with them or spread the good word.
2)The Good News is that some People are Open
There are some customers out there that have their name engraved in the barstool they sit at every night and they won’t even entertain the thought of trying out a new place. One day you’ll appreciate those kind of regulars when you get some of your own.
   But there are two other types the new place has the chance to entice. First there are the disenfranchised that don’t like any of the available watering holes for one reason or another and so are looking for a place to call their own. The problem with them is that the reason they don’t like any place is because they are hard to please which makes them hard customers for the new place as well.
   Then there are the open-minded people that are willing and waiting to find a good new place to add to there choices of places to go. The problem with these is that they have half a dozen favorites and like to support them all. But they are your target and the idea is to become one of their most favorites.
3)The Bad News is People are Fickle
It is unbelievably easy to lose a customer for life. The problem is they have too many choices and can so easily go down the road to a place they haven’t had a negative experience.
   Be it a bad meal, a server with an attitude or even another customer who was rude to them. We lost one customer forever because another customer switched channels on the t.v. from a game he was watching. He never said a word, we weren’t even there, he just never came back.
4)Like it or Not, the Owner is all the Difference
    Everything in an establishment is a reflection of the owner and they cannot pass anything off on their managers or staff because
they hired them and these employees represent them in the eyes of their customers. And that is why the owner cannot be too attentive to every detail and aspect of their place. For example, if a server is rude to a customer, the customer wonders why the owner has rude people working for them. Or if drink prices seem high, the customer figures the owner is greedy. If a meal is served cold the customer sees the owner as having low standards. Everything falls on the shoulders of the owners.
5)Free Drinks and Stiff Drinks Go A Long Ways
    It is impossible for any owner, let alone the new owner not to
make mistakes but luckily there is a subtle way to smooth things out. Drinkers love to have a drink bought for them, it is like a big hug. Forget advertising, buying people drinks every once in a while is the best way to spend your marketing dollar.
   By the same token, the next best way to endear your way into a drinker’s heart is to give them value each time you pour them a drink. They will notice that they received an extra count and it costs the owner pennies. Give them a great deal and you may just get the numbers it takes to sustain a business.
6)The Owner must be Gregarious and Appreciative
People who frequent drinking establishments love the attention of the owner. In their minds, that who is who they are supporting
and they like to get some credit. It doesn’t take much. Just a quick “hello” and “how’s it going” will do.
   It is also extremely important that the owner thanks the customer for coming in as they go out. This let’s the customer know that the owner realizes that they had a lot of choices about where to spend their time and money and the owner appreciates the fact the customer chose their place.
7)Everything is Atmosphere and Atmosphere is Everything
The staff, the music,the lighting, the temperature,the crowd…
everything in the building when a patron walks in is atmosphere.
Often people don’t know what it is that turned them off or on to a place and that subtle subconscious swaying factor was almost assuredly atmosphere.
   People will be drawn to a place that is always warm in the winter and cool in the summer. They like to be greeted by attractive pleasant servers that remember what they drink. They feel uncomfortable under bright lights and in rooms with no music.
    Making people comfortable is key to a watering hole and something the owner must hold paramount and train their staff to do the same.
8)The Competition-Study, Spy and Soak In
If a place is successful and established, they have plenty to teach the newcomers. They have to be doing things right to have survived. I’ve seen so many new owners never venture out beyond their own place – huge mistake. Sam Walton built Wal-Mart initially by spying on and learning from the people who were successful at doing what he wanted to do.
   The bar business is extremely competitive and difficult and the new owner can not afford to miss a trick. They need to take all the best ideas they see and not be too proud to implement them in their own place. Don’t reinvent the wheel, learn by your competitor’s successes.
   Another reason to go into other places is because that is where your potential customers are at. Be sociable, buy them a drink and invite them to your place.
9) Quickly Abandon Your Cherished Great Ideas and Adapt
Every new owner has a few great,new and fresh ideas and more than a few stupid ideas. Lose the ego and admit when you are wrong.
   Most novices think they have the next great concept the market has just been waiting for. And then in a month or so the dream hits reality. Survival is all about adaptation to reality.
   Keep what you are able to from you original idea, but give the people what they want. You can only learn that from number 8.
10)Constantly Work on the Help
Here’s a simple rule no new owner wants to believe: new places don’t open with a great crew. It’s simple, all the best people have secure jobs in established places where they make great tips and they aren’t going to give that up on the chance that the new place might be better. So the new place gets the left-overs.
   The key is for the new owner to understand the reality of the situation and not sit back and let the staff run the place. It takes at least two years to slowly acquire a topnotch, trustworthy crew and until then the owner has got to be in control and make constant changes, firing the shifty and slovenly and immediately hiring the local star servers that occasionally become available.
   Along this line, always remember that customers are drawn to great servers and repelled by bad ones. To the owner, they are all the same price, and so hiring attractive, pleasant and hard working staff is  simply a matter of good business.
11) Work Your Butt Off
The truth is that so many have the dream of owning their own establishment, but almost none realize the price. If new owners truly knew how much effort is required to make a place succeed,they never would have signed up in the first place.
   As I mentioned before, the key to success is the owner and the more time spent, the more likely to succeed. The commitment
to open a place ties up thousands of dollars. Often it involves one’s entire life savings. It did for us. And so any new owner with a brain will put in the effort to protect and grow that financial investment.
   For two years we saw our hard-earned nest egg going out faster than we could imagine even though we worked as hard as we thought we could. Finally, with our backs to the wall, we worked harder than we ever imagined we could. My wife took over the bar and I took over kitchen and we began to make money. But it cost us all of our time.
   And that, combined with the above, is the only way I know how to ensure success.

    I don’t mean to always pick on the big apple, but to me they represent all the corporate/franchise restaurants that have 20-minute lines of hungry Valley folk eager to redeem their coupons or take advantage of the heavily advertised specials. Meanwhile the local independent eateries are lucky if they can fill all their tables at least once during any given meal.

   It was bad enough that Applebee’s trounced all of our small restaurants. Now they are going after the bars. When I owned my place, the Rock Inn, I grew to resent the way people packed out Applebee’s, Red Robin and the other giants during lunch and dinner, but I always took some comfort in the fact that none of them tried to compete much with the bars.

    I figured they could never compete with the locals, and it seemed they did not cared to try, considering that they usually charge downtown prices here in the Valley and the neighborhood watering holes are a dollar under that. They also never had any entertainment and so their nightlife was nill. But now that Applebee’s truly is today’s version of a neighborhood Grille, it wants to bring up the bar part of the business to the same level.

    I will be very curious to see if Applebee’s is successful with their venture into nighttime entertainment. My guess is that I would not be surprised if they do all right. Applebee’s are adding entertainment all over the country and they would not be doing it if it weren’t working somewhere. I know that they have picked at least two good forms of entertainment. Karaoke on Tuesday is a good choice because you can get a great night going with karaoke any night of the week if you do everything just right and get lucky.

    Wednesday with Wii is a good idea for more than just that the name is catchy. Wii is a cheap form of entertainment that is popular and successful in most other cities but the Valley doesn’t have much of it that I know of and so that makes it a possibility. I don’t know anything about the backlight party on Saturday night but I am sure it is also something that other Applebee’s around the country have found successful.

     But the bar business is a little different from grille business. I doubt they can create a truly neighborhood bar because of their prices. People just won’t go and sit around during the day or happy hour and pay downtown prices. You can never call yourself a neighborhood bar without a core of daytime regulars. They are the neighborhood.

   That doesn’t mean that our Valley Applebee’s can not build at least 3 strong nights of entertainment. It would take a minor miracle considering how dead most places are on Tuesday and Wednesday night in the Valley but I say more power to them on the one hand because I like to see places create fun and exciting night spots for all the people out looking for one on any given night of the week. You can find something fun on any night in Vegas, all the better if a person can find it in a nice place to live like the Spokane Valley.  

    On the other hand, I cringe at the thought that a few locals will lose some business if Applebee’s builds some successful nights. But I guess the local nighttime entertainment field will have to get used to the corporate player just like everybody else in business. Who knows, the Valley night scene might be better off for it.

    But as long as city well drinks cost a buck more than Valley wells, Applebee’s won’t ever be a neighborhood watering hole. Success in the nightlife venture, however, is conceivable. I just wonder if they would ever change their name to Applebee’s Grille and Nightclub.