I live about two miles away from “Restaurant Row,” a road that has an amazingly high concentration of restaurants from Mickey D’s to fine dining. I generally do not visit any of them, with only a few exceptions. Nestled among all of the high end chains (Roy’s, Morton’s, Ruth’s Chris, etc.) there are a few Mom and Pop operations that offer charming service and good food offered by people who live in my community.
I went to a local pizzeria on Restaurant Row last week. Admittedly, the pizzeria was a franchise of a larger “emerging” chain of green pizzerias, but the owners of the franchise were locals. I had a wonderful time but the meal was not perfect. Accordingly, I sent an e-mail to the franchise owners to offer some constructive criticism. The owners responded with both concern and appreciation and when I returned to the restaurant yesterday, all of my concerns had been resolved. I have never known a national chain to pay such close attention to patron concerns.
There is also a small French cafe near Restaurant Row. It is always crowded because the owners, recent immigrants to the USA from a suburb of Paris, really deliver amazingly high quality cafe food and their coffee is the best I have had locally. The owners — Claude and Chantal — knew me from my first visit to their cafe and they never forgot me. They greet me as a friend and never rush me away from one of their few tables. I can sip coffee and read for an afternoon and pay for only one cup. They do not offer free refills because the concept of a refill is alien to them. If a patron wants coffee, they think he should get enough to satisfy his craving.
By comparison, I visited a national chain yesterday because I had received a gift card. I walked by the valet who was playing a handheld video game even though three cars were waiting to be parked. I had ordered takeout and been told that the meal would be ready in 15 minutes. I arrived after 20 minutes and still had to wait another 20 minutes for my order. When the order arrived, the staff had completely failed to follow my instructions (e.g. the $11 Cuban sandwich that I ordered without lettuce, tomato, onions or mayonnaise for a very finicky high school student arrived with all of the aforementioned offending condiments on the sandwich).
There are a lot of reasons to patronize the Mom and Pop shops in your neighborhood, including:
Local Businesses Provide Access to Business Owners: When you shop or dine at a locally owned business, you usually get to meet and to know the owners. The owners have much more of stake in the success or failure of their businesses than even the head manager of a national chain. Local owners will hear your complaints and act on them.
Local Owners Reward Patronage: Local owners do not need to resort to “frequent buyer” promotions or other promotions. They know their clientele and they reward it. When was the last time you walked into a Starbucks, ordered a cup of coffee, and been told by the barista “no charge”?
Local Owners are more Likely to Support Your Business: Local business owners are far more likely to adopt an “I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine” approach. Local owners have symbiotic relationships with one another. If you stop at a locally owned sandwich shop for lunch, that shop owner is going to be much more likely to use your services, whatever they may be.
Local Owners can become Your Friends: When I visit my French cafe, I am visiting business owners who were strangers a year ago but who are now my friends. I have tried to bring a spirit of friendship to national chains as well, but the staff never last long enough for me to get to know them.
Why do you think we should shop at Mom and Pop stores and restaurants? Are local businesses preferable to national chains or do you prefer the consistency, however bland or saccharine, of the national chains. Where do you like to spend your money?