Off The Menu: Number of independent restaurants dwindling

Sep 3 2016

Is the independent restaurant becoming an endangered species?

Recent findings published by the NPD Group, a major consumer research firm, suggest that it’s becoming harder and harder for independents to survive in the restaurant ecosystem.

The number of independent restaurants nationwide, NDP reports, has dropped by some 19,000 over the past four years. Chain eateries, on the other hand, have added an additional 17,000 units during the same time frame.

Here in New England, according to NPD’s data, the independent restaurant count has declined by 3% over the period the research analyzed.

This decline in the independent restaurant ranks has many possible explanations. The economies of scale that chains enjoy, with their ability to spread advertising, product development, and administrative costs over multiple locations, is certainly one factor.

Multi-unit operations also have more clout with suppliers; as a consequence those chains can negotiate better deals for food, supplies and equipment. That advantage that allows them to operate at lower cost than the independents trying to compete with them for customer traffic.

Independents are also partly responsible for their own demise. Too many owners allow themselves to get so bogged down in day-to-day operational details that they fail to keep their concept relevant to ever-changing consumer tastes.

In order to survive and prosper in today’s market, an independent restaurant operator must be incredibly nimble. Delivering a creative yet consistently superior dining experience is the key to outperforming the chains. A strong social media presence and aggressive public relations, two efforts that can pay big dividends, are also essential to continued survival and success.

Hugh Robert is a faculty member in Holyoke Community College’s hospitality and culinary arts program and has over 40 years of restaurant and educational experience. Please send items of interest to Off the Menu at the Republican, P.O. Box 1329, Springfield, MA 01101; Robert can also be reached at OffTheMenuGuy@aol.com

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