Local consultant Dianne Sclafani (908-1665; www.diannesclafani.com) has deep roots in the restaurant industry. In 1945, her grandfather Pete J. Sclafani Sr. opened the family's Sclafani's Restaurant in Mid-City, and he later moved it to Metairie where it lasted until 1985. Dianne grew up above the restaurant, became a trained chef and has worked at her family's Sclafani Cooking School in Metairie and in restaurant supply sales during her career. Today she's an independent restaurant consultant and serves as the New Orleans regional restaurant specialist for the Louisiana Small Business Development Center.
Why do so many new restaurants keep opening around New Orleans?
Sclafani: After Hurricane Katrina, a huge number of people decided they wanted to chase that dream of having a restaurant, and all the food TV programs out there now are part of it too. They decided they love food and entertaining, so why not make a business doing that — even if they don't know all the parts and pieces behind all that fun. They need to get past the glory of it, though, and recognize there's a responsibility part too, especially for the people who will work for you. But if they want to do it, I'm all behind them.
Is the economy changing the way people dine out?
S: Here we just eat out a lot more, it's part of what we do. But people are being more cautious when they do go out, so they're gravitating toward more reasonable neighborhood places and away from white tablecloths. The fine-dining restaurants have a tougher road ahead. It's getting to the point where white tablecloths are disappearing, and I mean literally. You go into some restaurants and think, hey, didn't you have white tablecloths in here the day before?
Summer is upon us, a hard time for restaurants. Any survival tips?
S: This lighter, healthy buzz that's going around the nation, this is a great time to introduce more of that. It's a great experimenting time. It's also the time to train and do more of the things that are on our wish lists but that we always push to the back burner. It's time to do that now so that we can be at our best when the busy time comes back. — IAN MCNULTY