Ask The Salty Waitress: Would Adding A TV Help My Restaurant?

Dear Salty, I'm a manager at a small Neapolitan pizzeria/Italian restaurant. We do a good business on Friday and Saturday nights when people come in for dates or with their families, but we've been struggling to stay busy other times. I'm thinking about asking the owner to add a TV over the bar so we could show football games on Sunday next season, or other big sports games people might come in for. I was thinking we could do drink and pizza specials those nights. But I worry it could bother some of our regulars, who I know appreciate the quieter atmosphere. The restaurant is small, so the bar isn't separated from the rest of the room. Is it worth a shot?

Any advice is appreciated.To TV Or Not TV

Dear TV,

There's no such thing as a sure thing in this business. Even if installing a TV worked for the restaurant down the street, it doesn't mean it's going to work for you particularly—are there already a lot of other competing sports bars or restaurants near yours? Have your customers even asked for the TV in the first place? While I'm going to offer you my infinite wisdom, don't bet the farm on this TV thing either way. Let's go through the pros and cons.

You're probably right that adding a TV may draw some customers. The question is whether those new people are outweighed by regular customers disappearing because they don't like a TV going while they're trying to enjoy date night or family time. Customers watching a whole game usually drink reasonably well and stay put for a while, so hopefully you'd be making good margins on the alcohol. There's also the chance those sports-watchers on a Sunday night turn into steady customers with their family or friends for other occasions, too. Best case scenario, you bring in some new customers, and the fact that pizza and sports go together well means your regular clientele doesn't bat too much of an eye at the new screen. (For what it's worth, you know how expensive those special sports packages are for bars, right? Make sure you do the math first—how many pies and pinot noirs would you have to sell to break even?)

And worst-case scenario, the new customers don't flock to your restaurant like you thought, and you piss off regulars in the process. So tread lightly. I think the biggest risk here is that you confuse your restaurant's reputation. Your current customers think of you as a nice place, an intimate spot where they can be proud to take a date or family. If you mess with that too much trying to be everything to everybody, you're going to be nothing to no one, you know? If the TV experiment really fails, you come out of it as neither a real sports bar nor a date-night pizzeria. You're just... a pizza place with a loud TV.

But maybe there's a middle ground. You could get the TV without the fancy sports packages at first, and only turn it on during big games. Keep it entirely off during Friday and Saturday nights, and maybe your regular customers on those days wouldn't notice much. You could also just try those pizza-and-drinks specials on certain days of the week without a TV. Maybe the deal alone would be enough to get some of your weekend customers in on a different night? Lastly, you didn't mention whether your pizzeria already delivers. It would take some time and start-up costs, but it could be worth drumming up weeknight sales by offering delivery deals instead of trying to get people through the door.

Remember that since this TV thing is your idea, your boss is going to expect you to own the results, good or bad. Bottom line: TVs aren't a magic bullet, and there's a chance the move could backfire. If I was you, I'd look into other, less-risky ways of making money before I asked my boss to shell out for a cable package and flatscreen.

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