Thanks to RestaurantOwner.com, Bob Carpenter, the owner of The Rock River Tap in Horicon, WI, no longer feels alone.
"I appreciate and use a lot of spreadsheets from the site," Carpenter notes, "but the biggest thing I get out of the site is the fact that I am not alone in the challenges and successes of the business. Sometimes a person gets so overwhelmed it the running of the business and is ready to give up, but then logs on to RO.com and knows that other people are going through it and all of us will survive. By reading the forum, I gain insight into what will help me and what won't." He also values the practical operations help. "For the price of four beers a month, I can get much better knowledge looking over this site."
The 120-seat tavern dates back to the 1930s, but has been owned by Carpenter since 1989. A greater emphasis on food -- homemade pizzas, roasted chicken, sandwiches, and the signature fish fries - has helped bring annual sales to about $425,000, built on an average per-person dinner check of $14 to $15. Additional seating is available on 400-sq.-ft. deck overlooking the Rock River.
Circumstances have led to tough times for Carpenter. In the wake of a second expansion in 2008, the municipality decided to tear up the highway that runs through town. "It pretty much shut the town down for a year. And then after that the economy went down, so I'm struggling to get back on my feet. I've had years where I worked 30 hours a week, and I'm working more than that now."
Thus, the psychological dimension is not to be minimized; indeed, operators from around the country routinely travel great distances to association conventions just to share these types of war stories and draw succor from others' travails.
"Sometimes you just think that you are failing, that things aren't going right," Carpenter confesses. "But this tells me it's not something I'm doing personally; it's just the way the economy is right now, or society. A lot of people are going through it, but they are working through it and finding a way to make it work. That gives me the strength to go on. I like that it's not me that's going through the struggle alone."
Savings on food cost, of course, have been welcome, as well. "By far," he says, "the biggest thing I've done has been the menu costing spreadsheet. It really let me know what my food costs are on my menu.
...By far the biggest thing I've done has been the menu costing spreadsheet... it's paid for my subscrption a hundred times over..
There are updates all the time, and I certainly change my menu more times during the year now because it helps keep costs a lot more in line. That one spreadsheet has been the biggest money-saving thing I've done. It's paid for my subscription a hundred times over."
Those savings, he says, have been undeniable. "I know that before I started using that spreadsheet I had a lot of food costs that were in the 60% to 70% range. When we originally costed them out they were at 40% or whatever, but as time passes this item goes up, and this item goes up, and this item goes up. We never used to price out each individual piece that goes into a menu item, but this changes the cost on all your food items (at the same time) so you can see what your overall food costs are."