Valley restaurant owners trying to stay up to date with latest trends

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- Running a restaurant is harder than it looks. When you consider rising labor and food costs, most restaurants fail within the first year.

"For every dollar that comes in, we put 95 cents back into the business," says President of the Local Restaurant Association Chuck Van Fleet. "So if you come in and spend $100, it's going to cost us $95 to put back into the restaurant to keep it running."

Van Fleet says restaurants are operating on razor-thin profit margins these days. He owns Vino Grille and Spirits in Northeast Fresno.

According to him, the State is coming down with so many new laws and regulations that it's hurting small business owners.

"If you come to my restaurant, the first thing you are is you're greeted by a hostess," Van Fleet said. "Then you've got a server who comes over and asks if you want a drink, then you may have a busser that's coming by, so when labor right now is $13 an hour, if you could have three to five less touching that table, you're definitely saving $50 an hour."

Van Fleet says the growing trend for the industry is fast-casual dining, meaning you go up and order without the help of a server.

"Because the parents are like, 'Hey, we just went to a baseball game or a tee ball game. Let's take the kids to feed them quicker than if they were coming into my restaurant,'" Van Fleet said.

Newly opened Pho-Ever in Clovis is bucking that trend.

Owner Tommy Ngo wanted to offer patrons a sit-down dining experience complete with servers while providing craft brew options on tap, something you don't typically see at other establishments that offer Vietnamese cuisine.

"I didn't want to have the same beer as my neighbors next door," Ngo said. "This is the first Pho restaurant in the Valley that will have craft beers. I thought of that. Let's do something different."

Unique menu items may get people to try a restaurant, but owners say the growing popularity of food delivery services is just one more thing that is cutting into their bottom line.

"You've got the Doordashes and the Postmates and the Uber Eats and the Grubhubs," Van Fleet said. Those right there are making it, so it's easier for people instead of going to a restaurant to sit at home and order what everybody wants and have it delivered, so then you're cutting down the amount of people that are coming through the door."

Experts say a good rule of thumb is food and labor costs need to be below 30 percent to run a successful restaurant.
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