Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Spinning Plates, Spinning Numbers & Giving Thanks

This past week, a couple of things got my head spinning. Somehow I am going to try to spin these thoughts into one coherent 3-part article. So please bear with me.

My daughter is unquestionably the biggest foodie I know. She had told me, "Dad, you need to watch this movie, Spinning Plates."  Earlier in the week, I had read an economic report that tells of how bad things really are in our industry. After having my heart warmed by this video - and then being brought back to earth about the grim prospects for our industry - it made me realize how truly thankful I am for you, our customer. What happens at Uptown doesn't happen in too many small communities. Without you, our customer, there is nothing. So here is a little pre-Thankgiving, thanks giving.

The Movie
This movie/documentary probably portrays life in our industry better than anything I have seen. It is the story of three American restaurants. One is considered to be among the top restaurants in the world; another is the center of life in a very small Iowa town and has been the center for almost 150 years; and the other restaurant is a fledgling taqueria in Arizona. How is it possible that each operation is so incredibly different, but in so many aspects identical? I came away with a new appreciation of what we have here at the Uptown. 

The producer purposely picked 3 restaurants at opposite ends of the food universe. Their food could not be more different. The settings and service style are worlds apart. However, the movie will show you how a breakfast burrito, "the best fried chicken you ever tasted," and molecular gastronomy all come from the same place.

An inside look into these 3 places reveals they are the same. The life lessons that are learned. The struggle through hardships. The amount of hours they all work. The love of the business is all the same. It is real. I can attest.

It also makes me feel proud and that what we do is worthwhile. This is a look from the outside in. I have been in some of the same scenarios. From getting ready for a busy Mothers' Day, to wondering if your dreams will die on a financial vine, to brainstorming about what is the best way to prepare and present a dish. Almost every restaurant owner has been there.

I don't want to spoil it for you. If you love food, family and community, you will love it. Just the fact you are still reading this newsletter means it is for you. Enjoy.

The movie is presently available on Netflix, several other streaming sites and Amazon.  Check out the movie website or watch its trailer here.

The Report
In our business, reading between the lines - or in this case numbers - is so very important. Sometimes they might be your numbers, and sometimes they are someone else's. Sometimes you might get excited when you shouldn't and vise versa.

The report I am citing is by the NPD Group, a group that analyzes consumer trends. The report states some very interesting trends in our industry. They claim that consumer restaurant visits have not been this low since 1993. My response was initially, yes we know! We feel it. Americans are cooking less food at home than ever for themselves, and at the same time, visiting restaurants less than since before 1993.

Our lives have gotten busier.  We look for convenience, and much of our clientele simply has much less money to spend. In the past 6 years, median family income has gone down over $5000... about 10%. When you also consider big business and big government are taking an every increasing portion of the family budget, it becomes clear. People simply have less time and much less money for eating out. Restaurants are always the first family budget cut. I know from being in business 30 years, there is a correlation.  If you have thriving restaurants, you have a thriving economy.

If business is bad across the country, it has to be significantly worse here. When one reads between the lines further, I think there are several assumptions one can make. I know some things from several other sources. Restaurants are still growing in the large metropolitan areas. That can only mean in locales like ours, business is contracting. The coasts are booming, so the rust belt has to be shrinking. When you also consider we are in Illinois... the Wall Street Journal declared several years ago - after the personal and corporate income tax increase - that Illinois was the worst place in the free world to own a business. Because of that, growth in our state is amongst, if not, the worst. Again, if the restaurant business has reached a 22 year low nationally, it has to be worse here.

When I look at these numbers in this context, we can only be happy and thankful for what we have.

The Thanks
After these two things had started to meld in my mind, a realization came over about how thankful I should be... we should be. Through this whole era, we have yet to lose any sales ground, and most years we've even had decent annual increases in sales and customers counts. Most restaurants in our situation would be thrilled just to tread water. We are. I know I am speaking for my staff when I iterate this thank you.

As we approach our 30th anniversary, we only have another 120 years to go until we reach the Breitbach's success. Let us renew our appreciation for you, our customer.

Thank You,


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