Indianapolis has been experiencing a vast amount of restaurant closings in 2017. Some have been somewhat expected (Here’s looking at you, Plow & Anchor and Long Branch), while others have taken me by complete surprise (R.I.P. Adobo Grill and Marrow). I get that Indy is becoming a foodie city and competition is getting fierce and I totally understand that we are a bit oversaturated by restaurants right now and people can only go out to eat so much, but legit: SO MANY PLACES ARE CLOSING! I’m honestly getting angsty about some of my favorites and feel I need to check in with them on the regular to make sure I don’t miss my last supper (I’m watching you, La Mulita and Canal Bistro).
But as the “permanently closed” labels continue to show up in my Google searches, I’ve started to wonder if people are giving up too soon. Like we’re talking stories of owners dreaming of a plan for 3 years and then closing after 3 months. If I opened my own restaurant (future goals!), I would be pumping in every idea I’ve got to bring people in the doors. 1/2 price drinks every day? Yes! Free puppies?? You bet’cha!
So, I’ve decided it’s my job to help out these restaurants. Since I have no restaurant experience outside of eating in them, I’ve declared myself perfect for the job. I want Indy to be full of delicious food and yes, some restaurants are just bad and doomed to fail, but come on, people! At least give it a fair fight! So, here are my ideas, my dear struggling restaurants. Hopefully, you can keep the doors open a few more months.
- Advertise. People need to know you exist. A write-up in the IndyStar is no longer enough to get the ball rolling. People need time to hear about you and then even more time to make plans to visit you. Host a Yelp event or invite Indy’s food bloggers over and use the power of influencers to get the word out. Invest in some sponsored Facebook ads or local mailers.
- Have a rockin’ social media presence. Your Instagram needs to be beautiful and frequent. Your website should be flawless and fancy, no matter what food you’re serving.
- Offer specials. $5 drinks and BOGO entrees will get people in the door! Yes, I know trendy places don’t like to “be on sale,” but “daily specials” are all together different. Get people excited about your location by getting them excited about saving money.
- Be involved in the community. Successful restaurants also volunteer at Indy’s outdoor events or offer to host clubs or government meetings or school events. Get a booth at your neighborhood’s fair, bring a table to the festivals, participate in Devour Indy, and donate your goods to the local shelter.
- Offer things other than food. Bingo night? Trivia time? Movie screenings? Pet shows? Get people to buy your food as an afterthought to something else they already want to do.
- Be friends with other restaurants. Partner up for progressive dinners or Chef’s Night Out or even swapping kitchens for the night.
- Know your audience. You’re a restaurant in Indianapolis. Yes, Indy tries to be progressive and trendy, but we still love tenderloin sandwiches and fries. People will eventually warm up to a creative menu if they can branch off a few “safe” items. Make sure your adventurous menu offers some options for those of us not cool enough to appreciate cold rabbit or veal tongue.
- Be accessible. You may have great food, but if it takes a fight with the GPS or 1/2 hour to find parking, people may give up before getting to it. Low cost valet parking is a personal highlight to me that will get me to eat just about anywhere, so figure out what works for your neighborhood.
- Remember first impressions. Indy has so many dining options that yours may only get one stop before people decide to ever come again. Keep up the obvious things, especially during the early days, like have enough food and keep the bathrooms clean and make your family come in so the place doesn’t look empty and incentivize your servers to be the friendliest people in the whole world.
- Give it time. Very few restaurants are a success overnight. Make sure you have room in your budget and with your investors to wait it out a bit. And if what you’ve got isn’t working, try something else! Get a new sign or reinvent the menu or find a new chef or switch up the lighting. Try anything! Just don’t give up right away. Indy likes to eat! We just have a lot of options! You’ve spent so long planning and designing your restaurant! Give us a fighting chance to make it into your doors and fall in love.
Well, there you go. This is my foodie fan advice for what I’m labeling to be the current Indy restaurant crisis. And yes, because I love you, I’ll be available for a personal walk-through and menu consult, as well. If you go out of business before trying these 10 ideas, I will have no compassion for you. Also, note to all my favorite restaurants: GIVE ME A WARNING BEFORE CLOSING!! I can’t handle any more notes on the door.
Restaurant people, what am I missing? Other foodies, what do you think?