Now that the winter holidays are behind them, restaurant owners here in the Pioneer Valley face a new challenge – a January slump in business.
In addition to the impact of winter weather – a bad Saturday snowstorm can take a big chunk out of the month’s revenue stream, restaurant owners also have to contend with predictable shifts in consumer behavior.
Come January, many among the dining out public is financially tapped out from holiday spending; folks are also inclined to hunker down at home in the face of dark evenings and frigid temperatures. In parts of this region the slump in business can be further amplified by the January holidays that local schools and colleges observe, a factor that temporarily diminishes the potential dining out population.
Restaurants can combat the post-holiday downturn, however, by seeing it as an opportunity to refocus the business and to concentrate on bringing in new customers.
One strategy is to organize special events for the period between Christmas and Valentine’s Day. Wine dinners, beer events, and cooking classes have long been staples of such efforts, but a little creativity can enhance their business-building impact.
One of the MAX Restaurant Group’s Connecticut locations, for example, has re-imagined the wine dinner as a wine-focused lunch club; a daytime wine or beverage event seems ideally suited to counter some of January’s limited daylight obstacles.
Another business building idea is to focus on encouraging gift card redemption. Some establishments even offer a small gift card incentive for January redemption.
Delivery is a deep winter business-building option. When people are inclined to stay home with football or Netflix rather than go out for dinner, promoting your restaurant to them through delivery can be a smart response.
A little quiet time in January can also be used to fine tune an operation by retraining employees, reworking menus, and perhaps even sprucing up the restaurant’s physical plant.
In any case, operators can take solace in the fact that Valentine’s Day, one of the restaurant year’s busiest and most profitable occasions, is only five weeks away.
The Student Prince and Fort Restaurant in Springfield is presenting a Red Wedding Beer Dinner on Jan. 22.
The five course menu is inspired by HBO’s Game of Thrones fantasy-drama series, with both menu items and the brews served along with them distinguished by Game of Thrones references.
The Dinner will feature an opening course of Three Ryed Ravens Melts paired with Ommegang Brewing’s “My Watch has Ended,” a brown ale flavored with maple syrup and fenugreek.
House Tarly Crispy Tater Skins will be served as a second course; the beer paired with the skins is to be Connecticut Valley Brewing’s “The Magic Dragon,” which was brewed with dragonfruit.
New Holland Brewing’s “Dragon’s Milk,” a barrel-aged stout, will accompany The Hound’s Fried Chicken that’s being served as a first entree.
“Special Creation” from Loophole Brewing of Holyoke is planned to go with the Flaming Hot Dragon Charred Lamb the Fort’s Kitchen will be turning out.
A dessert of Red Wedding Velvet Cake will be served with Djansk Mjod’s Viking Blood Mead, a hibiscus-infused honey brew imported from Denmark.
Tickets for the dinner are $52, plus tax and tip, and can be ordered at the Bean Restaurant Group’s website, beanrg.com.
The Student Prince is also promoting advance reservations for its upcoming Hunter’s Dinners, which will be held on three evenings in February – the 6th, the 18th, and the 27th.
For information or reservations, call the Student Prince and Fort Restaurant at (413) 734-7475.
On Saturday, Jan. 18, Chez Josef in Agawam will be presenting the Beatles tribute band “A Ticket to Ride.” Performing Beatles favorites, “A Ticket to Ride” will be preceded by a dinner experience built around a variety of entree stations. Salad, coffee, and dessert will also be included in the $45 ticket price. Doors will open at 6:15 p.m.
Call (413) 786-0257 to make reservations or log onto chezjosef.com/events to buy tickets.
Every few weeks a restaurant entrepreneur comes up with a new gimmick. Earlier this year Denver businessman Shawn Ellis opened Rose & Thorn, a high-end bar and restaurant concept with a Latin feel, that is getting widespread attention in the restaurant industry media.
What makes Rose & Thorn particularly noteworthy is the operation’s “ice lab,’ a closet-sized flash freezer that produces specialty ice for Rose & Thorn’s drink menu.
Ellis’s strategy is to create ice that enhances the flavor of cocktails rather than diluting the drink. To that end his “freezer guy” produces ice flavors such as maple and raspberry rose, the latter incorporating dried edible rose petals that enhance the drink as the ice melts.
The restaurant’s ice lab is equipped with molds to freeze ice into decorative shapes appropriate for drinks on the operation’s beverage card. Using these sorts of flavored ices has permitted Rose & Thorn to market specialty cocktails that command premium prices.
The restaurant’s web site is roseandthornlodo.com.
Good Acoustics, a tribute band that specializes in the mellow sounds of James Taylor and Simon & Garfunkel, will be appearing at Figaro Restaurant on Friday, Jan. 10.
Seating for dinner will begin at 6 p.m. and, as is their custom at these events, Figaro Restaurant will be offering a separately priced buffet of Italian American favorites along with a cash bar.
Tickets for the show alone are $23; a minimum food or beverage purchase is also required.
Call Figaro Restaurant at (860) 745-2414 to purchase tickets for this event.
A Pioneer Valley dining and drinking landmark, the Pub Restaurant in downtown Amherst, held a ceremonial “last call” on Saturday, December 21.
The Pub, which was operated by Dolly and Jerry Jolly, had a 50-year history of operation; generations of UMass Amherst students and local townies have memories of Pub experiences.
The Pub’s closing comes about as the building that it occupies is slated for demolition.
The Jollys will be opening a new establishment, Savanna’s Bar and Bistro, in early 2020. Savanna’s will be located on University Drive in Amherst.
Starting Jan. 1, the Salem Cross Inn in West Brookfield switched to winter hours, opening for lunch and dinner on Friday, dinner only on Saturdays, and dinner all day Sunday starting at noon.
The restaurant nonetheless continues to offer Fireplace Feast events during the winter months ahead, with Friday Feast dates scheduled during the month of January.
Friday feasts begin at 6 p.m. with pre-feast activities that include pie-making demonstrations, chowder preparation, and a horse-drawn sleigh or wagon ride (weather permitting) around the Inn’s 600-acre home farm.
The feast menu includes savories beforehand, and chowder “of the sea” prepared in an iron cauldron does duty as first course.
Centerpiece of the Feast menu is “Fireplace” Prime rib that’s roasted on a clockwork jack in front of a cherry-log fire. The beef is accompanied by herbed potatoes, spinach pie, and butternut squash.
For dessert the Inn serves deep-dish apple pie topped with generous dollops of whipped cream.
Tickets are $63 per person, with reduced rates for children and toddlers. The Fireplace Feast schedule continues through late April.
To purchase tickets call the Salem Cross Inn at (508) 867-2345 or go to salemcrossinn.com.
Hugh Robert is a faculty member in Holyoke Community College’s hospitality and culinary arts program and has nearly 45 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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