Seasonal Strategies

Page 3, Continued

Another seasonally challenged Upper Midwest resort area, Door County, Wisconsin, sees many restaurants close after fall color season. A few, such as the Inn at Kristofers in Sister Bay, stay open year-round to service second home owners and winter sports enthusiasts, such as cross-country skiers.

The dinner-only white tablecloth restaurant closes on Tuesdays during the slower season but otherwise keeps hours the same, says proprietor Chris Milligan. In business for 19 years, he credits repeat customers who like to return to their favorite restaurants for his longevity.

He has been able to keep most of the same staff for the past 14 years, all of whom were born and raised in Door County and enjoy the community’s lifestyle. Staffers will trade hours during the slow times to suit their schedules.

Some restaurants in the high-end ski resort of Telluride, Colorado, close during the slowest seasons, which are fall and spring. Eliza Gavin, chef/owner of 221 S. Oak in downtown Telluride, closes for a total of four months, from mid-April to mid-June and from mid-October to mid-December, but does well in the summer, when major music and film festivals, as well as hiking, mountain biking and other outdoor activities, bring in a sizable number of out-of-towners.

“I would lose more money if I stayed open year-round,” Gavin says. “It works very well and is a great opportunity for the staff to travel and do other things.” Almost all of her staff returns for each season.

Gavin keeps the restaurant open during a January lull and gears up for high season, from the February President’s Day weekend to the end of March, when she usually does at least 700 covers a week, compared with 300 in the slower seasons. In summer, she offers Sunday brunch in addition to dinner.

Travelers from cold climates who prefer desert warmth to mountain snow in the winter bring additional business to restaurants in places like Palm Springs, California, from January through April. Local restaurateur Mindy Reed of Zin American Bistro and Zini Café Mediterrano says her seasonal fluctuation has improved to about a 15 percent dip in summer. She credits second-home owners and summer tourists from Europe for the upswing.

Also, her moderate prices have benefited her restaurants, especially during the economic downturn. Still, her dinner check average in summer of about $31 is quite a bit lower than her $45 average during the winter season. She targets the local market in summer with a lower-priced prix fixe menu and half-off on many wines.

Janos Wilder, chef and co-owner of three restaurants in Tucson, Arizona, also targets the locals in summer. Among his promotions are a live music series with dinner at J Bar, a four-course tasting menu of 12 items at Janos and a globally inspired frequent diner program at Downtown Kitchen & Cocktails. “They’ve been extremely effective,” he says.

Business can drop between 30 and 50 percent in the desert heat of summer, especially at the fine-dining Janos, says Wilder, who opened that restaurant 29 years ago. “We know this will happen so we budget accordingly and put as much money away for the summer as we can to cover our losses,” he says.

He opened the casual Downtown Kitchen & Cocktails in October 2010 after the recession began to affect tourism and peak business at Janos. Improvements to the downtown presented him with a good opportunity, he notes, although summer remains an issue there, especially with college students gone till fall.

So far he has been able to avoid cutting staff. “I’ve cut hours but not staff,” he says.