In our last Uptown Updates of the year, I usually like to recap the year that was and the year that we will be greeting. We also like to throw out a very sincere thank you to YOU, our customers who allow us to do what we do.
2014 greeted us with absolutely terrible weather. It seemed that every weekend until mid-March, we were faced with some kind of weather adversity. During winter, weekends are our lifeblood. It affected us so deeply that by mid-March, we had been down more than 20% in sales. We had never been that far behind that late in the year. It was a struggle to catch up all year, but by mid-November we had gone ahead of the previous year and will definitely finish the year ahead.
Since we had started using our tablet menus, we had constant trouble keeping them operating on a consistent basis. Sometimes when you are at the forefront of technology, there is a price to be paid. Last summer, we paid that price and upgraded our entire crew of menus to a newer version. After many months, they seem to be extremely stable and much easier to use for the customers.
Towards the end of this year, we installed a new seating and reservation program. Yelp SeatMe is an online version of our reservation book. It allows us to take reservations online, confirm reservations via text and text our customers to tell them that their table is ready. As we are only six weeks into it, we are facing the daunting task of New Year's Eve, our busiest shift of the year. In year's past we have taken deposits for our larger tables on the bigger holidays only... New Year's Eve, Valentine's Day, and Mother's Day. The reason for this has always been that if we get a cancellation or a no-show, we have a large table not seated and a server working the holiday without a table. The troubling part of this is that in most cases we could have reserved that table dozens of times. This also happens with of our smaller reservations, 2-tops and 4-tops.
SeatMe allows us to take the credit card "hold," not a deposit, for all reservations. Once again, we will only being doing this on the three big holidays each year. We don't have to charge the customer a deposit ahead of time, but in return the customer's reservation is held. Our policy for New Year's Eve is that you have to cancel by the 29th (today, a friendly reminder), in order not to be charged a $10 per person reservation fee. As long as the customer honors the reservation or cancels in time - so we can re-reserve the table - there is no fee, and they will see no charge on their credit card. In the past with 600+ reservations, we would call every party to confirm. This is also an annoyance, I'm sure to customers as well. Then still, at the last minute, we see many cancellations. Our hope is that this will greatly improve our service and your experience with these high-demand reservations. You can reach our online reservations here. Save it on your smartphone or computer. It is really convenient to use.
With New Year's just a couple of days away, just a reminder that we don't charge any extra, and we don't limit the menu with the exception of no sandwiches. New Year's is a very festive occasion around here with a couple thousand balloons, streamers and party hats. It is always fun to watch peoples' faces as they walk in.
Also in 2014, we made a big dent in Mario's wish list for equipment for our Playlist Theater. The Sam Llanas show a couple of days ago was our first show with a major upgrade, all new monitors. There were many other upgrades in our equipment, and we hope you can tell the difference. I really hope Mario's wish list is about finished. Thanks Mario - I would rank our sound up there with about any place I have been.
This past year, we had many great new staff additions. I really feel like our crew from the front of the house to the back is as good as it has ever been.
One thing in looking back at the year and us actually improving our sales, it doesn't mean it was like this across the board for all restaurants. A few weeks ago, I cited a study that said Americans are eating away from home more than ever yet visiting restaurants less, an industry low not seen since 1993. Whether it's a change in lifestyle or an economic indicator that restaurant meals have gotten too expensive for a large portion of our population, the trend itself is interesting. Without getting too political, many things happened this year and are happening legislatively that are just going to increase the cost of doing business. Right now, this is my biggest fear going forward. Also, as the unemployment rate continues to decline, I am afraid that we will have a harder time finding qualified staff.
The question I get asked more than anything else is when are we remodeling. I almost hate to bring it up, but our plans did move forward this year, though we are still a ways away from completing these plans. We really do hope to start something sooner rather than later, but since this is my last major project I want to make sure it's done right. I can promise you that it will be. Thank you for being so patient.
One last thing, on June 3, 2015 the Uptown Grill turns 30 years old. How far have we come since our 1200 square-foot storefront next door? Once again, you are the reason for this... and from myself, my wife Rita, Ryan, Jimmy and all of the Uptown family, we Thank You and HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!!!!