Web Exclusive | February 2011 | By Mary Avant

Battling Back Against Winter

Quick serves find ways to fight off the winter blues as signs of spring approach.

Since mid-December, seven major snow storms have hit states all over the U.S., from the Northeast to the West Coast and everywhere in between.

This bleak weather “has literally dimmed the bulb on the restaurant business pretty much across the board,” says David Crane, CEO of BlueSky Local, a slow sales response solution for restaurants.

BlueSky’s research finds that almost 75 percent of surveyed restaurant owners report that changes in weather result in at least a 10 percent sales decrease.

Crane says a “good portion of [loss] happens during the winter because people are less likely to go out in snow and ice.”

Despite the fact that the restaurant industry was hit harder than any other by wintry conditions, many quick serves refuse to let the dreary weather snow them in.

SPIN! Neopolitan Pizza, with four locations in the Greater Kansas City area, began offering customers “crummy-weather vouchers” when they were forced to close early for snow and ice on several occasions.

“The first time we did it was just about, ‘How do we get people in the store?’” says Gail Lozoff, co-owner of the pizza chain. “We were afraid that there wouldn’t be anybody coming in because the weather was so bad, and then the minute we did it, people started coming in. We realized it was an effective way to drive traffic.”

Lozoff says the effects of the crummy-weather vouchers had a beyond-expected reach. “We analyzed it and determined that it really made us money and it also continued our traffic after the weather got a little better, too.”

“Anytime you can control your message and control your promotions to kind of dictate when you drive foot traffic in, people respond,” Crane says. “You get the ability to defeat the effect of adverse conditions, whether they be weather or anything else, to help make your business more stable, and to keep revenue up across the board, regardless of what’s going on environmentally.”

BlueSky Local, soon to be Promodig.com, helped its clients utilize the success of coupons during the winter snowstorms. “It’s helping them get more traffic in when people down the street from them, who aren’t using the system, are pretty much just hanging out waiting for people to show up,” Crane says.

“We were afraid that there wouldn’t be anybody coming in because the weather was so bad, and then the minute we advertised, people started coming in.”

One of BlueSky Local’s Subway clients in New York, which got “slammed” in the snowstorms of January and earlier this month, saw a 20 percent increase in their foot traffic once they began using coupons to drive customers into the store during winter storms.

“That’s meaningful,” Crane says.

Even areas often untouched by ice and snow were forced to bear the brunt of nasty winter weather this season. As luck would have it, Dallas saw a record-setting snowfall of more than 5 inches the week before Super Bowl Sunday, leaving many restaurants with lower-than-expected sales.

“I’ve never seen a restaurant that relies on good weather so much,” says Lindsay Arnott, general manager of the Which Wich location in downtown Dallas. “When it’s bad weather, we’re very much affected by the weather, and especially when it’s snowing.”  

With many Dallas-area restaurants expecting big numbers in the sales column thanks to traffic from the city’s first Super Bowl, Arnott says business was “just kind of standard.”

“We were a little bit disappointed, but it’s not like we had a sales goal in mind because this kind of thing has never really happened,” she says. “I guess disappointed is a strong word, but it was a little bit less than I would have anticipated.”

But winter didn’t put a damper on quick serves everywhere. Adam Oldenburg of Topper’s Pizza says all 28 Topper’s locations fared well in the snowy conditions.

“On a busy snow day, it can basically double our orders,” Oldenburg says. “We have all our staff in and it’s a big sales day—usually one of the biggest days of the year.

“We have this culture of, when this snow storm hits, it’s all hands on deck and we basically own the snow. We’re the last pizza place open in every city that we’re in, and we do it because we love it,” Oldenburg says.

While fall is its busiest sales season, Oldenburg says that “winter is definitely up there” for Topper’s.

Chains that are not so lucky during winter are greatly anticipating the transition to springtime, and many quick serves have made plans to drive traffic once warmer weather hits.

“We just put in a new sound system that will play music to our tables outside,” Arnott says. “We have three tables outside right now, but I’d like to add another one because we know that Texans love their nice weather.”

And even though SPIN! is looking forward to the hope of less snow and more business, Lozoff doesn’t try to plan ahead too much. “I think we’re just going to have to take it as it comes.”