Monday, November 06, 2006 by Ospite.

They've just opened down the street. It's a similar place to ours. Traditional Italian. A tad smaller than ours, open kitchen, and a bar twice the size of the one stretching on our west wall. And a staff that's brand spanking new.

The problem for us is that the owner's got a bit of a reputation...a good one.

Tonight was dead. Particularly dead. I walked away with 4 tables. Total. For the entire night. When I left I decided to ditch the uniform and check out the competition to see if that is where our business had gone.

I strolled up the sidewalk, prepared for the worst, so I pulled out my mobile, set it to silent, and pretended to have a conversation. First off, let me tell you how beneficial the fake phone call can be. You chatter aimlessly into space while surveying the landscape for details and important facts. Not to mention, most restauranteurs will acknowledge you, but not serve you while on your phone. It paid off doubly when I was almost attacked by the over-zealous, seemingly 12 year old hostess. The door was flung into me and I had to grab it with my non-phone hand to keep the handle from breaking my ribs. "HI!!"

Pulling the phone from my face.. "Got a take out menu?"

"SURE!" Seriously. She was almost yelling. She then thrust the to-go menu at me. I waved towards a chair to note that I'd be sitting there while chatting and deciding. "OK. Just let me know when you're ready." The first words she spoke ather than yelped.

I scoped the place out. Their waitstaff was young, and had a feeling of immaturity, similar to the host staff. Their wine list was small, and their menu equally small in ratio. The atmosphere was, sadly, more charming than ours. If I looked at the two floors, juxtaposed them and had to decide based on aesthetic alone, I'd have chosen theirs. Not to mention, the food smelled delicious. But then again, maybe I'm tainted because I spend all day, four days a week at our trattoria. Either way, I was tempted to order food on the spot, but their menu is pricier than ours and I didn't feel like attacking the meal alone for the sake of scrutiny.

On my way out the door, I realized I have waited on their assistant manager. Hoping to sneak out and not look as though I was sizing the place up, I hear a "Hey." that shattered that hope. It was Milhouse, who was dining with Gwen. He dragged me back to his table where he introduced me to his waiter as another Trattoria employee. Friggin brilliant Milhouse. Cover blown.

I stopped and chatted for no longer than 5 minutes. I exited. As I did, I couldn't help but wonder how much our business would be effected. They were on a 30 minute wait. But that could simply because the staff is incompetent. Or it could be because they took our Monday dinner rush. We shall see. I silently hoped that the Crutchmaster, who has been unseen for over a month now, would find a new lair there.


Blogger Brad #1 said...

The new places always get the good business. Don't worry, they'll be back after they realize that the level of service just isn't as good as their old familiar trattoria.

10:51 AM  
Anonymous Anon #7 said...

I've seen this kind of thing lead to a net increase in business for both restaurants (in Annapolis Md.) I worked in a restaurant there, and a new place opened up a few doors down.

They took some of our clients for a few weeks, but then things for us were back to normal. But the new place was also busy. So, there were more people eating on our quiet street than before.

Doorperson anecdote: Some folks would come to our door, decide not to wait in line, and walk down to the next place, and vice versa.

Our theory: People were more willing to come to our location at the last minute, without a reservation, knowing that if our joint was full, they could walk a few steps to the next place that was good.

This was tested when yet a third new place opened up, and all three restaurants were busy.

So hang in there !

Or, go to the new place and get part time work as a master consultant, teaching them the Way of the Waiter, in hopes that their restaurant will succeed, and draw more folks to your location.

Again anecdotally: This same scenario (New place  all restaurants staying busy) seemed to play out all over Annapolis, as little enclaves of restaurants formed.

9:08 AM  

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At your service, Ospite

I am not in the restaurant business, I am in the people business. I use every opportunity to people watch, because to me, even the most mundane is fascinating.

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