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DineLA: The Other Side of the Story

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We've spent the last two weeks critiquing the DineLA restaurants. Last week I just happened to run into a restauranteur who was participating in DineLA. Being the ever-prepared girl reporter that I am, I whipped out my digital recorder and did an on-the-spot interview. It seems only fair that the restaurants get the last word.

(Names of specific dishes have been omitted to help protect the innocent).

How has DineLA changed the type of patrons you’ve been getting?
I would definitely say it has probably brought in some people that would usually not come to our restaurant. Our prices usually run 75 – 80 dollars per person, even sometimes if you do wine or a bottle of wine it’s a lot more, so paying 34 dollars is good exposure for people, because our restaurant is more like where people come out on special occasions. But I don’t think these people are going to be coming on a regular…so…

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So it’s not going to bring you return patronage?
Nah, …I’d probably say, probably like 5 or 10 percent. But it’s great exposure for people to come in. We’re looking for new regulars, and I don’t think it’s going to bring new regulars. It’s probably going to bring people only on special occasions once a year, for birthdays and anniversaries.

How did you select the Dinela menu or make it different than your normal menu?
Obviously we have a priceline we have to go by, we have cost, so we try to operate the best that we can. We cannot offer the most expensive steak or seafood items. But we did have a [expensive dish] so you can try the quality of our meat. We wanted to do it in a way where if you don't eat red meat, you can have chicken or seafood, because we have a really good seafood selection. For the appetizers, we offer [expensive seafood dish], which for us is a very high-priced item, but it's good because it brings people in. It's one of the most popular items we have. As far as the dessert, we wanted to do something very traditional, that people would be looking for, but also something like the style of our restaurant.

Did the prix fixe menu disrupt service in the kitchen?
I'll be honest with you, we definitely saw a huge slump in business after the holidays, but we've been actually tracking how much DineLA brought us. 50 to 60 per cent of our business in the last weeks was DineLA so it definitely helped us. The first couple days we were not the most prepared because we didn't expect we were going to have that much. Like if we were doing 300 covers, 200 of that was DineLA. The first couple of days we ran out of a lot of stuff we didn't have, because we did not expect we were going to get such a high turnout.

It seems like some restaurants have not been prepared for the amount of people that were going to come in. Did you have to call more servers in?
We had to call people in, we had to prep more in the kitchen. Like the first couple of days we thought we would probably do 30 or 40 of them. We did 240 of them the first night.

Did you recoup the fee that you had to pay?
Well, for us, we're running a very high cost to be offering that price, but we think it's worth it in the long-term. So even though we might not make new regulars, it will definitely bring people in and show the people that we have a good product.

Do you find that the DineLA patrons are more demanding, are the restauranteurs, like, "Oh no! Another DineLA person!"
Oh no, not at all. I'll tell you from a restaurant point-of-view, the servers are not happy with it. Because obviously, a check averages anywhere from 75 to 80 bucks, and they make good money. And now it's 30 and 40, so they're making less in tips. But what's cool about it for us, is an average diner is there for 2 1/2 to 3 hours with fine dining. But with DineLA they're not demanding; they've usually already checked out the menu online. They know what they want so they're in and out. We're turning tables a lot faster - in an hour, an hour and a half, they eat and they're gone. So sales are plateauing as opposed to if we were selling things at a regular price, they would cost more, but we are turning so many tables they are basically evening out

Are you getting something back on the liquor? Are they buying wine?
Initially, that's what I did. I was pushing people to upsell, because people, you know, especially foodies, may think, "Oh my god! I'm only spending 34 dollars, I can splurge a little". I can't speak for anyone else, but at least in my restaurant, it hasn't. You get the occasional wine table where a party of four orders one glass of wine, but they are not big drinkers

Would you do DineLA next year?
Yeah, I definitely would. Business has been down, and the way the economy is, we haven't had the frequency of business that we were having. Since the end of the summer til now, business was definitely down. To bring this in, it helped us out, labor is better - we can give more hours because we do have more business. It definitely helped out.

You may be surprised by the repeat business. A few of the places I've been to are now going to be my regular places.
I think its a great concept. I know they do it in New York and Chicago. This is the first time in LA. It's a good concept. Even if you don't make regulars, it gives people the opportunity who don't want to pay 200 dollars. It's also great for new places that are just opening up. It's great exposure. When I read about it, it was also for tourists. One thing we are doing is offering it to everyone. I don't know if other restaurants are...

Most are putting out the two menus together
I know there are other restaurants that won't tell you about it unless you ask about it. We didn't want to upset anyone, like one person is paying one price for something, and another person is paying another, so we were offering it to anyone - especially with business - it being January and February, people have spent their money on the holidays - the timing is so crucial

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That was the goal. They know this is restaurant slump time. They want this to become a destination week. People are coming here for Disneyland. I don't know if people are coming here for DineLA week. But foodies might.
I went to Chicago for Taste of Chicago.

Yeah. Foodies are obsessive.

Photo by Moriza via Flickr

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