Harold Shumacher in the AJC

by Steven Josovitz

Harold Shumacher

Metro restaurants’ business a bit better

First quarter not as bad as last year’s.Numbers not in yet, but reports from managers have upbeat flavor.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Thursday, May 07, 2009

With 15 years of running restaurants under her belt, Cindy Shera had braced for a tough January and February, traditionally slow months for dining out.

But the owner of The Shed, a Glenwood Road eatery, saw business actually increase compared to the same time a year ago, a surprise given the recession.

“Knowing how badly the fourth quarter went, I knew we’d just have to toss the history of the business out the window,” said Shera, explaining that the end of last year defied all logic. “Today, you definitely have to roll with the punches.”

Metro Atlanta restaurants had a better first quarter than they expected, said Ron Wolf, chief executive officer of the Georgia Restaurant Association. Though he did not have hard numbers, he said that in discussions with operators, most said they were either up a little over the same period last year or were flat.

“The indicators are it was a little better or not as bad,” he said.

That doesn’t mean restaurateurs are ready to pop the champagne cork yet. Overall, about 63 percent of restaurants nationally reported negative same-store sales in March compared to the same period last year, according to The National Restaurant Association. And fine dining —- those white-table restaurants that have been the rage in Atlanta over the past five years —- continue to struggle compared to fast-food and quick casual eateries.

“The restaurants are not packed, but they are a little more busy,” restaurant analyst Harold Shumacher of the Shumacher Group said, adding he expects business to improve at year’s end. “A lot of people I know are focusing on operations and controlling costs.

Though revenue is far from pre-recession levels, business has picked up over the past few months at the Sun Dial, the revolving restaurant that soars over the city atop the Westin Peachtree hotel, said general manager Wassim Takriti. The restaurant is off close to 10 percent overall —- a victim of lower hotel occupancy as well as tight budgets —- but Takriti is seeing business increase in key areas: proms, birthdays and anniversaries.

“We are a destination for special occasions,” he said.

Plus, things are a lot better this year compared to last, when the restaurant was dealing with the aftermath of the March tornado that tore through downtown. The Westin was especially hard hit, losing windows and having streets closed to traffic for days.

“This year we are doing much better,” he said.

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