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Made to Order Chapter Eight: Blunt Talk

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When originally posed with a pair of restaurant consultant options – both outside of Springfield and at a cost to Springfield Diner’s Omer Onder – the eatery owner answered none of the above.

For Onder, the price tags were too high. Long Island, New York-based Alan Someck’s fee was $2,500 for a day of work with Onder in Springfield. Fayetteville, Arkansas-based Omar Kasim was offering a discounted fee of $750 for 20 hours of on-site consultation.

Onder said he didn’t want to pay upfront for an initial visit and not know what value he’d get out of the consultation.

“I don’t like that idea. I know the problems,” he said of the restaurant.

He’s referring to a customer survey that identified poor service, uncomfortable seating and an unclear identity at Springfield Diner.

After more than a week had passed with no response on the suggested consultants from Onder, branding agency Longitude LLC owners Dustin Myers and Jeremy Wells thought going local might be an alternative.

“We were kind of getting the sense that Omer was not pulling the trigger on the other consultants because money was a factor,” Wells said.

So, they brought out a third option – one who was local and willing to have an initial meeting with Onder at no charge. It was an offer he couldn’t refuse.

Meet your consultant
Enter David Foster, owner of Foster & Associates, a Springfield-based food-service and restaurant consulting firm. Among the firm’s clients are Maria’s Mexican Restaurant, Neighbor’s Mill Bakery & Cafe and London Calling.

Myers and Wells introduced Foster and Onder on June 13, for a meeting at Springfield Diner. A large portion of the meeting involved Foster getting up to speed on the diner, its operations and the work Longitude has done with the eatery since getting connected with Onder in late March.

“There’s probably a lot of challenges you can help him with that we’re not experts in,” Wells told Foster. “We want you to be able to step in if you’re available and give some insight.”

Sitting across from each other at one of the diner’s tables, Foster and Onder chatted openly for nearly two hours. Myers and Wells listened intently to the conversation but barely spoke. It might have been difficult to get a word in edgewise, during Foster and Onder’s back and forth.

“The Springfield Diner name doesn’t really convey what you are, who you are and what you do,” Foster candidly told Onder.

Foster previously informed Onder he had some caveats with clients – for one, his propensity to speak from the heart, even if that means being critical. He asked Onder if any elements were off limits in the rebranding process. Onder said no.

Foster ate at the diner a few days prior to the meeting and noticed a disconnect between American food and the Mediterranean options on the menu.

“From my experience, you have to have that one main thing,” he said. “What’s the one thing – that place of differentiation – that people can associate with your restaurant?”

Foster cited Lambert’s Cafe as an example. Love it or hate it, he said the ideas of big portions and the “home of throwed rolls” are effective.

Growing the business
In a smaller seating environment such as the diner, which has a 42-person capacity, Foster said the menu’s concept often needs to provide higher value to customers. That’s not saying the restaurant needs to go all the way to being a fine dining establishment, he said, but maybe something more than just a breakfast spot.

“To be able to generate enough revenue, it’s hard to do with a breakfast menu. It’s just really hard,” he said. “You have to know what that limitation in volume is with your current concept.”

Adding Mediterranean options to the menu came from customer requests, Onder said. The menu’s current four options for the nearly 15-month-old diner were added in October, and they now comprise almost 20% of sales, he added.

Onder said gross sales range between $13,000 and $17,000 per month. However, he said expenses are running between the same ranges, leaving only a slight profit for any given month. The average receipt is around $14, and for the year, he said the diner is breaking even.

“I know we’re going to change lots of things, too,” he said. “For now, this place is not profitable enough.”

Foster said it’s important for Onder to figure out all the business costs and determine where he needs to be in sales to make it a profitable venture.

“Once you determine what that big picture needs to be, then you look at what tweaks or changes to the concept need to be done,” he said.

Foster has operated his firm since 1998, with previous work experience at the former Springfield advertising and marketing firm Noble & Associates, the now shuttered Raleigh, North Carolina-based Comfort Foods Management, and Fargo, North Dakota-based Atlas International Food and Equipment Co. Inc. He also served in various management positions for nearly 20 years with the longtime Springfield staple Heritage Cafeteria.

Workshopping
At the close of the June 13 meeting, Wells and Myers scheduled a branding workshop with Onder for the following week. Because of Onder’s work schedule leaving only late afternoons open, the workshop was split up over two days. Wells said part of its intent is to develop and solidify the identity of the diner and its owner, along with its unique selling proposition. The next few months of the branding process will be planned out like a roadmap through the workshop, he said.

“There are things we can help you implement from a branding and marketing perspective,” Wells told Onder. “There’s going to be a lot of things that David can probably help you implement, as far as the kitchen and operations.”

While Foster isn’t playing a role in the workshop, Wells said Longitude would like to keep the consultant involved in the rebranding effort. Foster said he was agreeable to the request.

However, while the initial meeting was pro bono, he was uncertain what fee might be charged for any future involvement in the project. He indicated a desire to keep his fee as low as possible for Onder, but said he was unable to quote the amount until he had some set objectives to gauge how much time he’ll need to invest. He declined to disclose his standard fee, as he said it varies based on the deliverables of a project.

Heading into the two-day workshop, Onder said he feels comfortable with the rebranding journey. However, he’s yet to take the time to budget for the rebranding expenses. He’s hoping costs will land in the $5,000-$7,000 range.

“There are no hard problems to fix,” he said.

Impressed by Foster, he’s hopeful the consultant will stay involved to some extent.

“I believe he is going to be very helpful for me,” he said.

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