St. George Food: Establishing brand, customers first step to success

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Students expect cheap, yet decadent food prepared by grinning, hard-working part-time employees, and food establishment managers and owners try meeting these demands to stay afloat. 

If managers of restaurants, cafes and fast food joints didn’t base a majority of decision making around appeasing students and the elderly in the past, a majority of successful ones are reaching out to prominent demographics in the area through accommodation and incentives now. By giving numerous options in many price ranges, top establishments thrive.

Lennart Erickson, Utah Small Business Development Center director, consults more than 250 aspiring business owners and entrepreneurs a year—many of whom seek success in the dining industry—and said 83 percent of all restaurants fail in the first five years. A common indicator of future success or failure is location; Erickson said much business comes from driving by, seeing an intriguing establishment, and stopping.

Beck Fallis, a freshman physical therapy major from Sandy, said more than word of mouth and social media are needed. Cruising by an intriguing eating establishment in a prime location is key.

“Usually I’ll just be driving around with friends then we’ll see [a new restaurant] and stop to see what it’s like,” Fallis said.

However, Catherina Brick, a freshman general education major from Las Vegas, said she will leave, however excellent the menu or other elements of customer service are, if the smell of strange food or customers float.

“I walked into restaurants that (smelled) gross but were clean, and I left,” Brick said.

Location and cleanliness leave an impression, but other necessary aspects don’t always go hand-in-hand. Erickson said students demand food of high quality at a low price served by enthusiastic employees.

“People want everything,” Erickson said. “Students want good food, good service and want it fairly fast.”

Fallis said although cheap food accommodates the average student budget, excellent food matters; he opts to skip fast food for this reason.

Preston Johnson, 25 Main Café general manager, said although the café features excellent entrées and beverages, consistent customers come back because of kind, genuine cashiers and servers. Along with implementing discounted purchases when patrons “like” the 25 Main Café Facebook page, Johnson said super service is always a goal.

As tastes shift, with many consumers demanding low-calorie, vegan menu items, the playing field is reduced.

Erickson said Black Bear Diner management worked tirelessly, listening to feedback regarding food and service, and by providing a vast, reasonably-priced menu, the diner is packed; many fast food and older establishments in the area haven’t done this and are suffering. 

Developing a niche also appeals to patrons.

Johnson said 25 Main Café is most known for an eclectic collection of cupcakes. Rather than attempting to abandon this model, playing up to peoples’ expectations allows business to thrive.

“It’s really hard to change impressions and paradigms,” Johnson said, referencing conceptions that the café is a cupcake spot. “It’s hard [to] say, ‘I want you to think something else.’ It’s nearly impossible for [me] to do that.”

Promoting cupcakes is a top priority, and 25 Main Café customers can count on new ideas and bargains complementing the product.

Erickson said when managers and owners make moves that change eating into an experience rather than a malaise ordeal they can assure success through high satisfaction.

“That’s always something that’s just magical—if you have that place you just want to go, every time you come to town you just want to go there,” he said.

Part two of the food series in next week’s issue will cover the future of St. George eating.