Seasonal Strategies

 
Red Rock Bistro in suburban Boston is open all winter, offsetting the seasonal closure of Chilmark Tavern on Martha's Vineyard.
Smart operators overcome challenges of fewer customers, revenue swings

Operating full-service restaurants of any kind is not an easy way to make a living, but restaurateurs in locales where their business can fluctuate wildly with the seasons face even more challenges than most.

From the Eastern shore to the desert Southwest, restaurant owners in seasonal tourist destinations have learned how to juggle major business swings. Why do they do it? Being able to live in a highly desirable place makes the challenges worth it, they say.

In the scenic, friendly town of Waterbury Center, Vermont, Michael Kloeti, chef and co-owner of Michael’s on the Hill, gave up the urban life in Manhattan to settle into a community that reminded him of growing up in a small town in Switzerland. “I like that people know me, and I know them. People take care of each other,” he says.

Even though his business drops about one-third in the slowest months of November and April, when there are neither leaves nor snow to attract tourists, Kloeti stays open year-round. He credits keeping opening costs and ongoing overhead in line for his ability to stay in business for the past 10 years.

“A lot of people make the mistake of putting too much money into renovating. I did minimal renovations. You have to look at every dollar spent,” says Kloeti, who researched the local market by working for another restaurant before opening his own restaurant in an existing location. By following his carefully itemized financial plan and doing many renovations himself, he and his wife, Laura, kept the business profitable.

During the slow months he hasn’t needed to cut staff or their hours. “There is enough local business to at least pay the bills, and I don’t lose the staff. We break even and wait for the tourists to come back,” he explains. Many staffers do take vacations when business is slow.

He does, of course, reduce food costs then and eliminates waste even more than usual. “You just have to hold on tight,” Kloeti says.

Unlike Michael’s, some restaurants located in summer tourist areas, especially those on the Atlantic Ocean, do close for a few months in the dead of winter. Most of the restaurants on Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, for instance, close from late October till Memorial Day, including Chilmark Tavern.

“We do intense business in a short period of time and have to do the right pricing to be profitable,” says proprietor Paul Petersiel. “It’s a very busy restaurant.”