It’s true. It’s somewhat sad to see the hulking remains of old, reliable, favorite restaurants dotted around Sandy Springs over the past year, but a closer look reveals a more pleasing plethora of new restaurants that have opened in the city in the last few years.
Despite the lingering effects of the pandemic, which admittedly cast a shadow on the restaurant industry nationwide, Sandy Springs restaurateurs and industry executives are wholeheartedly optimistic about their eateries. And Sandy Springs reflects the overall picture for restaurants in the State of Georgia.
Two-thirds of Georgia’s restaurants are in Atlanta/Sandy Springs
Karen Bremer, CEO and president of the Georgia Restaurant Association, said the state actually has more restaurants now than before the pandemic hit Georgia in early 2020. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, she said, there were approximately 19,000 restaurants in Georgia in 2020, while now there are more than 21,000 restaurants in the state. That’s despite more than 4,000 restaurants that closed in the state in 2020. Of the 21,000, “two-thirds are in the Atlanta/Sandy Springs area,” she said, adding the notable tidbit that some counties in the state don’t have any restaurants.
[The Georgia Restaurant Association includes Sandy Springs with Atlanta in its statistics.]
Bremer said that some of the restaurants that closed during the pandemic, since reopened with a new concept.
59 restaurant establishments have opened in the city since 2020
The Economic Development Department of Sandy Springs – the state’s 7th largest city – reports that 59 new restaurants or food establishments have opened since 2020. Of these, 30 are full service, 24 are limited service, three are snack bars, one is a retail bakery, and one is a brewery.
Restaurateurs are “fairly optimistic,” said Bremer, despite continuing concerns about labor availability and costs. In the past two years, labor expenses, which include workers’ compensation insurance and payroll taxes as well as salaries, have jumped 21 percent, she said. Food prices have risen 18 percent, as of the end of 2022.
“The average restaurant makes five percent profit,” she added. So, a restaurant that made $45,000 before the pandemic, would be losing $120,000 if it kept its prices the same.
Marketing to restaurant patrons has changed
A former restaurant owner and operator, Bremer said more people are dining out nowadays, but they are “value engineering”. Restaurants “need customer loyalty programs to reward existing customers” which are much more cost-effective than seeking new customers.
Forget old-time advertising in newspapers or coupon-dropping in mailboxes. “People are doing their marketing on social media. The largest percentage of the population is young and they don’t read newspapers,” Bremer said.
Dine Like a Local will be held again in January 2024
Earlier this year, Visit Sandy Springs – a destination marketing organization – held its Dine Like a Local digital dining passport and campaign with 21 participating restaurants. According to Jennifer Cruce, CEO of Visit Sandy Springs, the campaign, held in partnership with the city’s economic development department, was considered a success. The organization had 1,163 sign-ups and 550 check-ins.
The website analytics indicated that the Dine Like a Local landing page on VisitSandySprings.org out-performed its second closest page by more than 350 percent (14,851 sessions vs. 4,240 sessions). The page also led in goal completions for a single page with 3,900. And the campaign produced 579 E-newsletter opt-ins at sign-up.
Cruce added that “we gave away 18 gift cards purchased from participating restaurants, three Dine Like a Local branded insulated baskets full of picnic gear and treats – one each month – and one gorgeous Yeti cooler to the grand prize sinner.”
The campaign was so successful, “we are partnering to do it again starting Jan. 1, 2024,” Cruce said, referring to the Sandy Springs Economic Development department.
Jeff Trump, who along with partner Mike “Shooter” Horosh have worked together in the restaurant industry for more than 25 years, said he remains very optimistic about the industry. “We have had Brooklyn Café in Sandy Springs for 18 years. Sandy Springs is a vibrant and incredibly supportive community that truly embraces small businesses. We feel fortunate our restaurant is in such a wonderful place with great citizens and community leadership. Our City will only get better.”