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Our View: Restaurant closures aren’t sign of trouble

January 9, 2019

The unexpected closure of any business takes a human toll. People lose jobs, and longtime customers are left to find alternative sources of goods and services.

Rochester has experienced four such closures in the past five weeks, with Perkins and Bakers Square each shuttering a pair of restaurants that had been fixtures in the community. The suddenness of these closures has disrupted a lot of lives, and the timing was utterly Grinch-worthy.

But in the big picture, it’s hard not to see these closures as signs of Rochester’s increasingly robust restaurant scene.

Never have Rochester residents and visitors had a greater variety of local, independent dining options. Some — Victoria’s springs to mind — have been here seemingly forever, while others are new kids on the block. If you’ve been sticking to your old standbys for the past few years, you could easily dine at a new restaurant every night for a month and not run out of options.

Invariably, some of these new restaurants will fail — and some will fail quickly. (Remember the Lost Cajun? We didn’t think so.) That’s the nature of the highly competitive restaurant business, and we believe Rochester’s population can be especially difficult for restaurateurs to read.

Rochester residents who might happily spend $100 on dinner and drinks for two at Chester’s or Prescott’s will balk at a lunch special that can’t be covered with a $10 bill, including the tip. In other words, Rochester’s population enjoys the finer things, but it can be cheap, too. (Denny’s, we should note, seems to be doing just fine. Cheap Charlie’s, too.)

Ultimately, people vote with their feet and their wallets, and Perkins and Bakers Square simply weren’t getting enough votes.

This probably should come as no surprise, because nationwide the very idea of a sedate, alcohol-free, music-free, television-free, family-style meal flies in the face of what most customers want today. Dining has become an experience, something to be shared on Instagram — which, of course, can be the best advertising for a new restaurant.

And let’s face it — the internet has made it far easier for diners to spread their wings and go outside their culinary comfort zones. Gone are the days when you had to walk into a new restaurant “cold” and roll the dice. Today, with full menus, prices and customer reviews just a click away, finding a new place to eat has never been easier — and restaurants have never been so immediately accountable for bad food or poor service.

It’s truly an adapt-or-die business, and the major chains that have long thrived in Rochester, including Outback Steakhouse, Applebees and HuHot Mongolian Grill, are the ones that constantly add new menu options, flavors and price points. It’s hard to be both big and nimble, but the lack of empty tables at these businesses on a Friday night is proof that it can be done.

We hope that other restaurants will step up and fill the void left by Perkins and Bakers Square. While new, locally owned businesses would be great, we’d also love to see another national chain take the plunge into the Rochester market. Cracker Barrel springs to mind as a good fit — no alcohol or TV, but it’s a popular experience — or perhaps an International House of Pancakes.

But that’s sometime down the road. For now, we’re just glad that the cooks, servers and other staffers who worked at Perkins and Bakers Square have entered a job market that couldn’t be hotter, especially for service workers. Everyone’s hiring, especially in the retail sector.

With a shortage of applicants, anyone with customer-service experience should have little difficulty finding a new job — perhaps even at a better wage and with better hours.

In other words, if you are looking for a restaurant job, Rochester is a pretty good place to be.

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