Beefing up seating capacity without costly renno
Twelve years in, Salvatore Scarlata looked around his popular New Jersey restaurant and thought, “We’re going to need a bigger place.”
“Everyone wanted to come in for dinner at Vidalia Restaurant the same time, during the prime-time hour around 7 p.m.,” says the award-winning restauranteur. “It got to be a bit of a challenge.”
And closing the doors against all that business lining up for a table at his Lawrenceville, N.J. eatery was not an option.
In this week’s Q&A with Boxerbrand’s blog Recipe for Success, Scarlata tells how he solved his biggest challenge.
Q: How did you overcome your seating-capacity challenge?
Three years ago we decided to expand to an outdoor space. At this point, we had so many customers all trying to come in at 7 p.m. that it was getting a little stressful. We wanted to accommodate everyone at Vidalia. So, we installed a permanent awning over a patio space, and added moveable sides that can be lowered during bad weather, and heated.
It really helped us capture the foot traffic, and make it comfortable year-round. Our customers love it. And we’ve managed to double our capacity without interrupting our business.
Q: How does the outdoor space enhance customer experience?
The new space makes it possible for our patrons to linger over their meal and enjoy their time more fully. In the past, we had to turn over tables to make room for the next customers. The space also opens up space for patrons to line up more comfortably. The whole thing has eased a pressure on us since we no longer have to stress about kicking people out. The space gives us more room, and gives us peace of mind. I’ve been operating Vidalia for 15 years now, and I was pretty confident that, as the famous quote in the movie Field of Dreams— ‘If you build it, people will come.’ —would be true for us, too.
Q: What other secrets do you have for success?
I try to stay humble, and I always seek customer feedback. I talk to my customers and find out what they like and don’t like. And every year I return to Italy to take cooking classes, and refresh my skills. This year for a change I’m going to be studying in Nice, France. Our menu eclectic Italian with a French twist, and we’ve become very popular. We were in the Top 10 in our category in 2017, winning against 500 other restaurants competing for recognition by New Jersey.com.
It’s a stressful environment, and new restauranteurs quickly learn that when you own your own restaurant, you have to satisfy customers while making sure you do everything in your power to make sure people are showing up to work, and that your staff makes money. It’s not easy. But, it’s also very rewarding.
Q: When you’re not at work, what go-to meal do you prepare for yourself?
Number one, I’m hardly home. And when I do have a day off, we tend to go out to eat and let someone else do the work. But, when I do cook meals at home, I love to grill out. I keep it simple, and make meats and fish without too many overpowering seasonings. — Vidalia Restaurant in New Jersey uses Boxerbrand’s Capri line in their table presentation. Thank you!