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Panelists: Competitive restaurant industry creates challenges, opportunities

Hospitality and Tourism
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The restaurant industry has become more competitive for customers and staff who are more informed than ever about the atmosphere they seek and the food they choose, according to Greenville restaurateurs Rick Erwin and Carl Sobocinski.

Erwin is owner and founder of the Rick Erwin Dining Group and Sobocinski is owner of the restaurant group Table 301. The two shared their industry insights Thursday during GSA Business Report’s Power Event.

Competition is good for the restaurant industry, according to Rick Erwin (left) and Carl Sobocinski. (Photo by Bill Poovey)“Several things have happened over the years. When I first got into the restaurant business there was no Food Network. Second, there was no social media. The consumer wasn’t as educated about the industry,” Sobocinski said. “Consumers have come to expect a higher level of food quality, service, ambiance - the whole package. It causes us to get better and raise our game and change the way we do things on a daily basis.”

Erwin said the internet has put the restaurant industry under a microscope. Options like TripAdvisor, OpenTable and other technology that allows people see consumer reviews and ratings, influence where someone chooses to eat, he said.

“We look at that as a good thing that makes us better. That is the reason why we go to work every day – we want to perform, we want to execute. We make mistakes, how we manage the mistakes is what matters,” Erwin said.

While both restaurateurs say Greenville is a selling point for attracting employees, the market saturation has made it more competitive. Erwin said staffing is a challenge.

“However, if you are a very good operator, you’re going to have a very good staff,” he said. “Fortunately we have very low turnover. We do very well.”

Sobocinski agrees that staffing is a challenge, but he sees that as a good thing. “It means we are growing,” he said.

The two biggest issues are workforce and government intervention,” Sobocinski said. “Fifteen to 20 years ago we could open a business and handle payroll and all those things ourselves. These days, with all of the labor laws and regulations we have, we can’t do that on our own.”

Sobocinski also said there are enough people in the pool of potential employees to meet the needs of the many restaurants in the Greenville area, but to find employees “who work hard and really want to take care of the customer is a challenge.” He said having a variety of restaurants in Greenville offers diversity in the restaurant industry.

Competition and market saturation aside, the two restaurateurs had advice for anyone looking to open a restaurant in Greenville.

I would implore you to have a solid business plan and projection, and I would suggest you share that with good attorney, a good accountant,” Erwin said. “So many people go into creating a new restaurant and don’t spend the time to look exactly at what the plans or projections are, and end up failing as a result.”

“Hire a good attorney. Hire a good accountant,” Sobocinski said. “Then location, location, location. That was one of my first lessons.”

Reach Teresa Cutlip at 720-1223.

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