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How you can tell when a restaurant is failing

August 4th, 2010

I noticed today over lunch that the old Zig and Macs restaurant at 15th and Wakarusa has gone out of business and has been replaced by some Italian place, which I will need to try in due course.

Zig and Mac’s used to be really good. When they first opened, myself and a bunch of people from work would go there several times a month. They were fast, the food was really good, and we enjoyed eating there. However, in the past six month, it was clear the place was on the way out. This got me to thinking, what are obvious signs that a restaurant isn’t long for the world?

This is what I came up with…if you have any additional ideas, please leave them in the comments

  • The quality of the ingredients noticeably changes for the worse. An obvious sign of cost-cutting. This was actually very noticeable at Zig and Macs as a few months ago they changed from Romaine to iceberg lettuce in their salads and replaced the home made croutons with the crappy little cube-shaped ones from a bag.
  • A buffet is offered where none was before. Buffets aren’t automatically a sign of problems, but if a restaurant switches from, say a normal menu lunch to buffet only or otherwise adds a buffet where they didn’t used to have one, it’s a sign that they are circling the drain.
  • A radical menu change. Restaurants add new items all the time, and have specials, and move items from special status to menu status and back, but if there is a wholesale menu overhaul, then be worried.
  • Portion shrinkage. If you notice the size of portions is being reduced, it’s probably not because the management is concerned about the epidemic of obesity in America.
  • Out-of-date seasonal beer. This isn’t a sure thing and may only be noticed by beer connoisseurs, but if a restaurant has an “old” seasonal still on tap long after it is gone from most places (think a Christmas beer in late January or an Octoberfest in December) then it’s probably because they just aren’t selling much beer, and they don’t have many customers, and they don’t want to lose money by getting rid of a half-full keg.
  • Staff reduction. A consistent under-staffing, with long waits and poor service, especially if it’s not an obvious cause (like they are ridiculously busy) is a sign that perhaps the management is cutting back on staff to save money, to the detriment of customer service.
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    1. Daniel Gillaspy
      August 4th, 2010 at 19:52 | #1

      I am a veteran of the industry. I agree with your assessments. You’d think managers and chefs would know all this by now, but they still make these mistakes. And I never go back, either.

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