The restaurant business is risky. Perfectly planned eateries are only as good as they perform after they open. Seventeen percent of restaurants fail in the first year. The competition is everywhere, and diners are picky. In New York City, pre-pandemic, there were approximately 20,000 liquor licenses outstanding. Add in take-out, coffee shops, food courts, etc., and that number doubles. The same is abundantly evident in Norwalk. Many operate with very little cash reserves, so when hard times hit, so does the attrition.
The challenge of making money is always present. A full-service restaurant will run with a 30-40 percent food cost, around 15 percent labor, and 25-30 percent fixed costs, which includes rent, utilities, licensing, insurance, taxes, and dry goods. That leaves a pretty slim margin to hope for, and that may erode pretty quickly as wholesale prices can be quite fluid.
Many places don’t make any money on food at all. A friend had a chain of sit-down Tex-Mex places in California. After he sold out, he said he’d never made a dime on food because the competition dictated his low menu pricing, but when someone ordered a $12 margarita, everyone got paid! However, if your food doesn’t deliver on quality and value, you won’t get enough guests in the door to order those cocktails.
And as we often see, there’s the issue of the misguided restaurateur. How many readers have had the experience of their accountant, or doctor, or attorney gleefully telling you that they’re opening a restaurant? Hospitality is a passion. There are those who are born to serve, and those who are born to be served. One either cares about a guest’s experience, and strives to make it all it can be, or one is just there to smile and seat you. If you look at your restaurant as an ATM, there’s a good chance you’re not providing the best experience to your guests.
No less than a legend, Danny Meyer, told a story in one of his books about a young couple who dined at one of his places. The server reported it was a first date that appeared to not be going well at all. Mr. Meyer, on site that evening, instructed the server to offer dessert on the house. Why? He knew that when young lady told her friends how much of a flop the date was, she’d also be sure to mention that the restaurant was amazing! “They were awesome and even bought us dessert!” That, my friends, is hospitality. It’s easy for someone who gets it, and not even on the radar of those who don’t.
Now, to the Oak Hills issue. Where do we start? How about that the physical space itself ignores the needs of what it would take to work approach success? Why the pro shop is where it is, in lieu of a sit-down bar, escapes many. The old pro shop was just fine. Listen, golfers want a bar. Over and out. Golfers want a hot dog, and a beer at a bar. OHP provides none of that. Sterling Farms, Hubbard Heights, Richter Park, Ridgefield GC, all cater to golfers. OHP does not.
And even if you chose to sit on the deck, on a nice day, and relax after your round, at best, your basic beer and a burger (sorry, no hot dog for you) is $23 before tax and tip. No one wants to spend as much on refreshments as they did on the round of golf.
Catering private parties is a lifeline, but the current configuration makes that impossible unless they close the dining area for the party, and that leads to inconsistent public hours, and that leads to second-guessing whether to even think of OHP as a dining option.
So, considering all points noted, how much of this is the current footprint and operation getting right? Not much at all. Frankly, my last restaurant experience there was not great. The burger was not done to order, the wait for a drink was around 20 minutes, and the music coming through the door was deafening. When we asked if they could close the door nearest the musician, and leave the other open, the answer was, “No.” Just, no. (See notes on hospitality.) What we were treated to was the sight of the manager (owner?) who couldn’t have been less aware that we were there.
Harkening back to my school days, OHP Grille would have been a great example of how not to run a restaurant. The course itself is a gem, fun to play, at turns challenging and forgiving. It deserves a much better 19th hole.
Chapman Hyperlocal Media Board member