Back to list

How Customers Help Family Businesses Survive

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Here are some tips to help support small food businesses in your neighbourhood

By Tristan Fehrenbach, CBC News Posted: Oct 16, 2016 8:00 AM ET Last Updated: Oct 17, 2016 8:44 AM ET

Neighbourhood restaurants, like your favourite cafe or bakery, have something special about them.

They're the must-see places we bring our friends from out of town. They introduce us to new types of food. They can adapt to our likes and dislikes.

But these little shops operate in a fiercely challenging climate that often force owners out of business within a year or two of opening. Fortunately, my small bakery survived the start-up phase, largely because of the thoughtful behaviour of generous customers.

As small business week kicks off, here are some tips to help you support your favourite neighbourhood cafe or restaurant.

1. Hold us to a high standard, but give us a second chance

We aren't going to be perfect on day two. I'm mortified when I think about some of the bagels we put out in our first few weeks. But most owners get better with a month or two of experience.

2. Give feedback to the owner, gently

If we're not providing great service, let us know or our businesses won't last. If you have suggestions, share them. I had people offer great ideas in the first couple of weeks and those customers became fiercely loyal to us.

3. Don't expect us to operate like chain restaurants

Family run food businesses are often run with a skeleton staff, so it's difficult to open 12 hours every day. Also, if we're preparing fresh food and not just pulling things out of the freezer, we might run out of items. And we may have to charge a bit more.

4. Debit payments are business friendly, credit cards, not so much

When you pay for your food electronically, owners are charged a transaction fee. Debit fees can be as little as five cents, while credit card purchases start around two per cent of the entire purchase. That can really add up.

5. If you like us, tell your friends and tell us, too

We don't have money to advertise. We rely on word of mouth. And in the first year or two, we will lose money, so your compliments might be our only compensation.

About The Author

Tristan Fehrenbach
Owner, The Earnest Bagel Company

Tristan Fehrenbach has worked in government, the non-profit sector and construction, but is happiest when behind the counter at The Earnest Bagel Company in Windsor, Ont. on Saturday mornings.