VOLUME 28 NO. 6 | JANUARY 31 - FEBRUARY 6, 2009

Restaurants get creative in trying times

Last updated 1-29-09 at 12:18 p.m.

By Yuki Nakajima
Northwest Asian Weekly

The restaurant industry is an important part of the state’s economy — but its piece of the pie is dwindling. Restaurant sales have traditionally generated huge tax revenues for the state as well as job opportunities. However, sales aren’t likely to increase for at least six months.

After Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. filed for bankruptcy protection in September 2008, the restaurant industry has had a hard time operating its businesses because Lehman Brothers was a global financial-services firm that invested in restaurants. The following six months will critically affect the economic conditions of the industry.

According to a news release published on Dec. 31, 2008, from the National Restaurant Association, only 21 percent of restaurant operators expect to have higher sales in the next six months.

Janet Lau, manager of Top Gun Seafood Restaurant, says her customer base has decreased by 20 percent. The restaurant discharged full-time employees and hired part-time employees to avoid raising prices on the menu.

“We’ve never experienced anything like this before. It’s sad,” Lau said.

This is not the only local restaurant to be affected by the economic crisis. Herpreet Gill, 33, has been managing Punjab Sweets since 2006. Her parents started the café-style restaurant in 2001 which serves baked Indian sweets, appetizers, and drinks.

In addition to many loyal customers, Seattle-based publications such as Seattle Weekly and Seattle Metropolitan wrote positive reviews about the restaurant.

Before restaurant sales were a serious problem, two full-time and two part-time employees have been laid off. Gill also said that people come to the restaurant everyday to ask for job openings.

Furthermore, the weather in December affected restaurants sales. Anthony Anton, president and CEO of the Washington Restaurant Association, said that a lot of restaurants stay open on Christmas Eve. December should be one of the busiest times of the year for restaurants. However, people didn’t eat out because of the snow.

“The industry lost a lot because people simply couldn’t get out of the house in December,” Anton said. “Christmas dinner was canceled and [people] couldn’t drive, so the number of sales were bad.”

Looking at economic cycle, Anton believes that the last time restaurants experienced a similar condition was about 30 years ago. However, he said the current condition might be better than the last time.

“What we don’t know is that in ’82 or ’83, our society hadn’t developed to where it is today, eating out five or six times a week, so it was easier for people to stop going to restaurants at that time,” he said. “Lots of people are now dependent on food at restaurants so I don’t think this is going to be as bad.”

Though most restaurants are having a hard time, Hisako Shirakura, co-owner of Miyabi Japanese restaurant, has ideas to deal with the situation. Though sales have gone down and the cost of food including rice, fish, and vegetables has risen, she thinks that this is a great opportunity to try different approaches to serving customers.

“I’m planning to get work that we’ve never done before, such as catering and advertising in hotels,” Shirakura said.

“This is also a good time to take another look at customer service and the quality of food.”

Yuki Nakajima can be reached at info@nwasianweekly.com.


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