"The artful execution of all the qualities of leadership can be seen in small, everyday acts. If done with a light touch, all the better."
It's been said that operating a restaurant successfully is like trying to solve a series of emergencies separated only by problems. Here are some problems the typical restaurant manager can face and how comedy solved them:
Judy Trentman, General Manager of Sweetriver Saloons in Merced and Santa Rosa, had an awareness problem "We have a mixed casual dining menu and both restaurants are located in malls. We did a great lunch business, but when the mall closed at 6, our dinner business died. People just weren't aware that we were open late. We decided to add comedy on Saturday nights."
Has the comedy been successful? "We've featured comedy for almost a year. Friday nights in Merced and Saturday nights in Santa Rosa, using the same three comedians. For Santa Rosa, comedy has increased Saturday's food sales by 25 percent with bar sales being slightly higher."
In Merced, Judy estimates comedy has increased food sales 15 to 20 percent with higher bar sales. "It was even more important to add comedy in our Merced location because it is a smaller community without a strong local nightlife. There is no natural tendency to stay in Merced for entertainment."
At La Val's, a pizza restaurant in Alameda, Dan Ferreira had a different situation. How to distinguish his independent operation from franchise units with bigger advertising and promotion budgets. "I use comedy primarily as a publicity gimmick. It gives people more reason to talk about us," says Dan. "I can promote myself ahead of competitors and I'm not limited by restrictive franchise laws. Plus, comedy is something I enjoy personally, it breaks up the monotony."
Tom Fuller, owner of Fubar's in Pleasant Hill, was simply trying to increase business. "I had music before I had comedy. We featured Rock n' Roll three nights a week. All that did was bring in lots of bodies who liked music but didn't ear or drink," he said. "My father is a real comedy fan and she suggested a comedy night.
"We started on Wednesday since that was traditionally slow. Personally, I felt it would be a complete bust. I literally put comedy in only to humor my father, no pun intended. We hit pay dirt from day one. We did eighty dinners where normally we would have done maybe twenty-five."
The experiences of these three managers illustrate the basic reasons for adding comedy: To increase awareness of your restaurant; to increase publicity for your establishment; or, plain and simple, to increase your bottom line.
Many managers who feature a comedy night believe it builds awareness and attracts new customers. "It draws a large crowd into our Cantina which we wouldn't normally have,' says Ben Ricker of Casa Carlita's Hayward. "It has increased sales volume in the bar by 25 percent and 12 percent for food." According to Dan Ferreira, "It has definitely helped us as far as new business. A large percentage of our comedy crowd comes from outside our normal market area.
One reason for increased awareness is you can generate publicity for your comedy night at little or no expense. A press release can be sent to newspaper entertainment editor for the cost of a stamp and envelope. And by doing a little research you can get an email address so you can sent all press release with one button push.
Any publication within 25 miles of your establishment will probably list your event since it is not unusual for fans to travel that distance to support their favorite comic. Occasionally, you can get radio or TV exposure, especially if you have a comic coming in with TV credits ("Late Night With David Letterman," "The Tonight Show," "Comedy Tonight," "Comedy Central" "BET" etc.) Call your local radio station or TV talk show host and offer them an exclusive interview.
You can also generate an amazing amount of publicity if you do a show in conjunction with a non-profit organization. San Francisco promoter Don Stevens presented several a Sunday night for the ACLU at Lipps, which features California cuisine. "Because ACLU is non-profit, I generated a slew of radio public service announcements that would have cost over $3000 had I bought actual air time."