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Independent Restaurant Success:
It's About Perception and Attitude

By Maren L. Hickton

Last year, over 36,000 new restaurants opened in the United States - and nearly three-fourths of them were independent units, not chain restaurants [1.]; the commonplace restaurant industry "statistic", that nine out of ten new restaurants will fail within the first year, turned out to be completely false (according to a study conducted by Ohio State University - which demonstrated that the restaurant failure rate is closer to one out of four, or 26 percent, in the first year, with lower failure rates in subsequent years); and among franchised chains, the cumulative failure rate was 57 percent during the first three years and 61 percent for independent restaurants [2.] - only a four percent difference.

Despite this good news, some independent restaurant owners continue to be discouraged - blaming assorted business struggles on the expansion of chain restaurants - while others are not. In both cases, it seems that restaurant success has less to do with whether owners are truly successful and more to do with their own perceptions and attitudes.

To test this theory, I contacted award-winning restaurants in the Pittsburgh marketplace and asked owners a series of questions about current independent restaurant challenges - their own and those of others. Fifteen owners were contacted and I had discussions with nine of them. While all of the owners' comments were interesting, I found two owners among the group of whom, while both successful, had completely different viewpoints - the first, with a rather gloomy outlook; and the second, very upbeat - about the future of independent restaurants.

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