This weekend I went to Acapulcos, which is a great Mexican restaurant over in Stratford, CT. I went with family, and my brother Sean who is visiting from LA. It was Friday night around 8:30 and the place was extremely busy, so we were waiting outside until a table opened. Now, this restaurant is right near the train station, and there a bunch of other places directly nearby in this little center – six to be exact. I wasn’t paying much attention and was fiddling with my phone, but my brother was pacing back and forth, checking out the other restaurants since the area has changed since the last time he was home. After peering through all the windows he came back and said “I feel bad for all of these other places.”
I had no idea what he was talking about at first, but as I looked across the street I saw an empty italian restaurant with only two families inside. The pub next door to the place we were going was fairly empty, and the fancy restaurant on the opposite side was dead as well. My brother then said that “.. it’s sad when you see one busy place, and everything nearby is dead.” I’m paraphrasing of course, I can’t recall the exact quote. The only other place that was busy was an ice cream shoppe called Goody Bassetts – an old fashioned ice cream shop named after the famous witch who was hung in that town in 1651 and buried in the cemetery nearby.
What struck me about all of these other places is that they don’t stand out – they’re boring.
What Acapulcos had going for it is great food (my brother is critical of mexican food after living in LA and he thought it was fantastic), attentive and friendly wait staff, and a great concept (there are barely any mexican restaurants nearby). The same goes for Goody Bassetts – an old fashioned ice cream shoppe, with interesting flavors, extremely friendly owner, and a great name that has history to the town.
What about the other places? Well, they were boring. I honestly cant even remember the names of any of the restaurants, and I even ate at one of them before! There is a reason why restaurants have the highest rate of failure out of any business – and thats because most of the time they are boring. If you have the same atmosphere, the mediocre food/menu, bad wait staff, or bad location … it can be the kiss of death.
There are plenty of amazing food places near me that are remarkable. Some of them are out of the way to get to (Windmill Restaurant), some are in a bad area but make up for it with a great Bavarian atmosphere of frauleins, lederhosen, accordians and beer steins galore (East Side Restaurant). Others have a great name and make all the toppings fresh (Super Duper Weenie), and some make the most amazing, interesting foods you’ve ever had and wont find anywhere else (Miyas Sushi).
All of these places found their niche. They understand what they want to say and who they want to be. The problem with most businesses – not just restaurants – but a majority of the businesses out there, is that they are the same. Around 50% of small businesses fail after 4 years, and roughly 70% fail by the 7th year. These failure rates are because people try to be safe. They want to open up a coffee shop – but what do they have to offer that would make you better than Starbucks, Dunkin’, or any other chain? If you’re being average no one cares, and no one will notice you. That’s the premise behind Where’s Waldo – he doesn’t stand out.
What do you want your business to be? And for your pleasure ..