7,000 indie restaurants closed since fall of 2008…

…But how many opened?

This recent article in the L.A. Times caught my attention for two reasons:

1. It doesn’t provide any context. OK, so 7,000 closed in the last 3.5 years. Well, why not tell us how many have closed on average every 3.5 years. Is it 2,000? 5,000? I have no reference point to let me know if 7,000 is more or, heck, less than normally close in 3.5 years. Also, why doesn’t the article indicate how many restaurants opened during this same time? And was that number higher, or lower, than normal over a 3.5 year period?

2. This quote bothers me: “Independent restaurant operators have neither the money nor resources that the chains have. They lacked the marketing power to drive traffic and the monetary buffer to get through the difficult times during the past several years.” So am I to assume that indie restaurants can’t use creative and inexpensive tactics to drive traffic, such as what restaurants like Arch Rock Fish did when they spent just $13,000 on pre-opening marketing and opened during the height of the recession? Do you really mean that just because some independent restaurants don’t have deep pockets, they can’t be nimble and agile and creatively leverage their intimate local knowledge (something chains can’t do) to give themselves a competitive advantage?

Tough economic times certainly take their toll on plenty of businesses, both large and small. But I don’t agree with the overall theme of this article, which is: “Hey, sorry if you own an indie restaurant. Chains are bigger and better and you should beware because the economy isn’t great and you have a good chance of failing while chains can just tap into their coffers and spend themselves to success.”

Don’t buy into this thinly veiled attack on indies for a second. It’s just hype and an effort to grab your attention with negativity. As I learned from interviewing twenty successful independent restaurant owners for our book, indie restaurants have plenty of competitive advantages over chains, even in a tough economy.

If I owned an independent restaurant, I would hope I could ignore this type of noise, and stay focused on things I could control, like taking great care of my customers and my staff, and not letting bad news infiltrate my optimistic outlook. As a friend told me recently: “The pessimists write all of the headlines. The optimists have all of the money.”