Restaurants, bars and pubs are king.
Foodies have their grubby fingers all over Shop Local Saturday.
Diana Fox, co-owner of the Grey Fox Grill & Public House in Dover, said her profits usually increase more than 20 percent that day.
The annual shopping holiday, founded by American Express in 2010, is the Saturday after Thanksgiving. The goal is to encourage people to support small businesses.
Fox said it has been good for her over the years, because her restaurant/pub is in downtown Dover, near a string of retail shops.
Once shoppers are done hitting those stores, they’ve worked up an appetite and decide to dine, she said.
This year Fox will offer drink and food specials, as she’s done in the past. There’s a bigger picture to the holiday than just making money that day.
“It isn’t about boosting my sales one day out of the year, because that day won’t make me or break me,” Fox said. “What it does is introduces new people to the restaurant, pushes people and reminds them that there are options, and to not forget about our small businesses [year-round].”
Maryellen Kiernan, manager of Irish Eyes Pub & Restaurant in Milton and Lewes, said business downstate has been good for both of her establishments the last few years on Shop Local Saturday.
In fact, that entire weekend is usually busy for both, she said. This year Irish Eyes will have Saturday food and drink specials.
Kiernan attributes the foot traffic to being near shopping outlets. She said their top notch customer service has played a big part in bringing regulars back.
“I get comment cards all the time from someone saying, ‘We like the server Tina’ or ‘Don on the bar is really great,’” Kiernan said. “I think when you’re a local restaurant, you have to develop a relationship with the customer.”
Around the holidays, Irish Eyes has a yearly customer appreciation party for patrons. “We consider our customers like our family,” Kiernan said.
Small biz advantage
Keith Young, owner of Young’s BBQ in Middletown, agreed that offering great customer service is crucial. It’s often an advantage they can use over major retailers or chains.
“I think that’s where a lot of the big businesses fail,” he said. “They can’t provide the excellent customer service. But your small businesses can always compete with customer service. They have to. One of the most aggravating things is getting a voicemail, and you get that with big companies.”
Young is often available to chat with customers at his eatery. He said, “I probably live more in this restaurant than I do at home. It’s the sacrifice you have to make when you’re a hands-on owner like myself.”
Business at Young’s BBQ on Shop Local Saturday is pretty much the same as it is on a typical Saturday. In general, he draws customers by offering tasty barbecue and a good dining experience.
The day makes billions
Some 108 million shoppers combined to spend $12.9 billion on Shop Local Saturday last year, according to the 2017 Small Business Saturday Consumer Insights Survey, produced by American Express and the National Federation of Independent Business.
The survey revealed restaurants/bars/pubs were most popular, accounting for 41 percent of visits. Next were clothing and accessories stores (24 percent), food stores (23 percent) and coffee shops (22 percent).
At the Grey Fox, millennials are big contributors on Small Business Saturday because they have a strong sense of community and understand their dollars are getting poured back.
Around the country, millennials -- born roughly between 1981 and 1996 -- have been trending away from chain restaurants in favor of eating at places that offer fresh food, Fox said.
Merry Catanuto, co-owner of The House of William & Merry restaurant in Hockessin, said millennials are being more conscious of what they eat and they’ll spend extra for healthy options.
Ultimately, Catanuto said this audience has helped to give her restaurant a good push.
“I think millennials have more of a trust that smaller businesses will use the right products and won’t always try to completely think about the bottom line and profit margins,” she said.
Her restaurant won’t offer specials on Small Business Saturday, because she doesn’t have a budget for it.
Relying solely on word of mouth, great customer service and delicious food, Catanuto said she’s positive she’ll have a good day because she’s noticed a steady flow of customers throughout the year.
Is once enough?
With some business owners, there’s a debate whether Shop Local Saturday should grow to more than one day.
Fox said she’d like it to become bi-weekly or monthly, because it’d help the community be more conscious of shopping small.
Young said the holiday might be more effective if it were once a month. But if it were more often than that, he said, it might lose its appeal.
Kiernan at Irish Eyes sees pros and cons.
“Currently, the timing of it is pretty good because it’s in the middle of the holiday season,” Kiernan said. “I think if it was more often than once a year, it might take away its punch. I don’t think it’ll be something I’d want to do weekly.”