Appetizers
January 27, 2011
Consultant has an offer for ailing restaurants: Free help

By Blair Anthony Robertson
brobertson@sacbee.com

Andy Soto wants to help save restaurants in this troubling economy and, along the way, maybe develop a tidy collection of new clients for his business, Spectrum Restaurant Consulting.

Throughout December and January, Soto was offering a price that few struggling eateries could resist: free. As in, on the house.

When I caught up with Soto recently over the phone, he explained that his offer was no gimmick, that the assessments he would give restaurants wouldn't be some shallow drive-by just to entice them.

When I asked what was involved time-wise, he said, "As much time as it takes. I would probably go in and spend a couple of hours with the owners or top managers and see exactly where they need to change, then take all the information back with me and analyze it. So, we're talking at least a week, maybe up to four weeks."

Referring to restaurateurs, Soto added: "I'm really not looking for anything from you except your success."

Soto was born and raised in New York City, so he knows a good restaurant when he sees one. He has also spent time in the business, starting as a waiter in Miami and working his way through the system. After a stint in San Diego, he arrived on the Sacramento scene in 2006.

"I've done just about every position in the industry," he said. "I had opened several restaurants for other people and thought it would be kind of fun to try it on my own."

As a restaurant critic, I have the luxury of seeing what the good, the bad and the dreadful are doing, practically on a daily basis.

Obviously, the numbers have to make sense when you look at costs vs. revenue. Beyond that, many restaurants send a confusing message about what they are all about. How are you trying to distinguish yourself from the competition? Or are you trying to be just like the competition? Do you have the kind of personnel who believe in what you are doing, who understand the team concept of running a business and are committed to the idea that they are there to serve customers and make them feel special?

I asked Soto to give me an example of a client consultation, and he recently got back in touch with a rundown on what he was doing for the charming Sugar Plum Vegan in midtown. This is a place I like. The sandwiches are cool and alternative, and the desserts, despite the absence of butter and eggs and vital things like cream cheese frosting, are delicious and distinctive. But I found it off-putting that the place didn't take credit cards. I can't be the only one who A) rarely carries more than $6 and B) finds it a pain to use a bank machine on site that will charge be a couple of bucks to get access to my money, only to be charged another $2 by my own bank for financial infidelity.

Our consultant says he spotted several areas of opportunity and will complete a mystery shopper report, create training manuals, guest comment cards, and an employee incentive program, among other ideas. "I did the math and I will be providing (the owner) with over $5,000 worth of services for free," Soto told me.

Sounds like Soto is working his plan. His free offer may be ending soon, but anyone interested in having him visit a restaurant and tap into his expertise can contact him via email, spectrumrc@rocketmail.com, or by visiting his blog.

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