I stopped in a local “meat and three” restaurant yesterday to grab a quick lunch, make a quick exit and move on with my day.  The restaurant has been around for years, although recently ownership changes have been frequent.  The menu is the same, the service is grounded in southern hospitality, and the food is good. What I realized, however, is that this type of restaurant with its southern cuisine is in fact serving a shrinking customer base that is slowly but surely killing its business.  The recent ownership changes have done little to attract new customers and while I like the menu offerings it seems others are not so impressed.

I thought about how success, legacy, history, and customers in a limited demographic range can spell trouble for any enterprise young or old.  What are the strengths of the restaurant in question?  The quality of food and service stand out.  The location is not bad and the consistency of what customers get is a plus.  So what’s the problem?  The problem is that the food offered and served is not the food younger families are eating.  It more resembles Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners than quick, fast, healthy items that families are eating today.  People want quick, healthy (more or less) cheap food to sustain busy lives.

Yesterday I noticed the ages of the patrons and without a doubt I was the youngest person in the crowd who came for lunch.  At 62 that meant that everyone else was my age or even a generation removed.  Also, the price points of the food were high, no doubt driven by small volume and food quality.  Even so, I predict that the woes of previous owners have been passed on to current management.

How can a restaurant with great food be losing ground?  By staying a course to satisfy its steady customers while failing to account for the shrinking number of those customers and failing to attract new, younger ones.  Serving great food to a declining number of people is the recipe no one wants.

I think there are lessons to help any enterprise.  First, take decline seriously no matter how rave customer reviews are.  Second, whatever you do find ways to cross or include as many generations as possible.  Third, watch costs and price points.  Costs can be passed to customers but not if your market is declining.  Finally, before you buy, find out why someone is selling. If you don’t you may just serve yourself to death.