Straight from my email, meet Benjamin M. Martin. He’s looking for help with a small town restaurant:
I live in Clarendon, Arkansas, population 1,700 or so (yes, seventeen hundred, lol). It’s in eastern rural Arkansas, commonly referred to as the Delta. The vast majority of people here are farmers and ‘old school’ where the fast food from McDonalds, Subway, etc just doesn’t appeal to them and they aren’t willing to drive 40 miles roundtrip to get any fast food. So, they’re used to the home cooking such as grilled burgers, plate lunches, mashed potatoes, etc. Consuming healthy food is like asking them to sacrifice their first born.
Anyway, we have two very small sit down restaurants here that seat about 25-30 each. Both offering the small town food that is cooked on the grill like burgers, fried fish from the local river, chef salads, chicken fried steak, etc. There is also a small Tastee Freeze as many people have known them over the years. You just go up to the window and order, wait five minutes and you have it. There are no places to sit down or anything of the sort. It’s named The Lions Den (after the local high school mascot) and been in existence since 1968. My grandfather originally built it and my father ran it for a few years before selling it. So that’s where my interest in seeing it succeed comes from.
December 1st, it was bought by a couple my age (early 30’s) and, just this week, they completely replaced the entire kitchen – a FIRST since it was built. Yes, it was waaay past time to do so. With the local rumor of a Subway coming to town, I want to get them to change some things and enhance their offerings so they don’t panic and make some wrong decisions when Subway does open. The problem is, I’m just not sure which direction to go in and I’m just not sure how locals will be willing to change. So with that said, here are a few of my ideas that I’d like you to look over and see if any of them might work, in your opinion.
1) The Lions Den has been successful for 40 years now. Why change anything at all? Well, with all small towns in the Delta, population is dwindling and the economy is really affecting everyone. So what changes can be made?
2) Offer some healthy offerings. Since all sodas have a huge profit margin, perhaps offer various fruit Smoothies? The local teenagers and semi-heath conscience young adults would like this, I feel. Anything fruity seems to always sell.
3) Local advertising is a waste of money, in my opinion. Everyone knows of The Lions Den and it’s in a prime location so any advertising would be pointless. The Chamber of Commerce is nothing but a political circle so those membership fees are pointless, as well.
4) There are no posted specials whatsoever. Like Sonic, perhaps offer a Brown Bag Special. Two cheeseburger, two fries and two sodas for ‘x’ bucks. There is a large wall next to one of the ordering windows where a large piece of plexiglass can be installed with a large menu of sorts behind it advertising just the specials. They can offer variations where they an offer 1 burger/fries and 1 chicken basket or something of the sort. Having ‘numbered’ specials works at every other fast food place in the world, so why wouldn’t it work here?
5) Happy Hour. Back to Sonic, I know. They offer Happy Hour every day from 3pm-5pm where drinks are half off. Your cost of a drink from the soda fountain is about 8-10 cents so you’re still making a huge profit even at half price.
6) Offering local flavor I’m not sure is possible other than continuing to offer the greasy burgers they’ve done for years, lol. This area is known for it’s fish from the White River and the two cafes have that covered.
7) I’d love to see them give some sort of reward system for kids who make the honor roll or something of the sort. Maybe, if they bring their report card there, they get one free meal?
8) Gift cards. I think a great advertisement of “Don’t let your child/grandchild go hungry this summer,” would be fairly effective since the area kids are always roaming the streets during the summer. They’ll head over to Grandmas for a free sandwich or something. By buying them a gift card, this is a gift that will last and not be thrown out in 30 days like the latest CD/DVD. The drawback to this is, without an electronic scanning system like McDonalds has, how do you regulate this? Do you have a special stamp or the owners signature to make them legit each time a kid redeems it? I’m just not sure how to go about doing this.
I think there are two main areas to look at here:
1) Can you get small-town, simple-minded, people to change the way they look at food and actually make healthy choices?
2) If so, what are some low-cost, high-profit items that can be offered on the menu?
Thanks for any help you can provide,
Benjamin M Martin
Me? I like the idea of a new specials board. Seems like a very low cost area to immediately make more sales.
What do you think?
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Becky started Small Biz Survival in 2006 to share rural business and community building stories and ideas with other small town business people. She and her husband have a small cattle ranch and are lifelong entrepreneurs. Becky is an international speaker on small business and rural topics.