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Queens eateries get creative to lure cash−strapped diners

Queens eateries get creative to lure cash−strapped diners
Restaurants like Astoria’s Latin−themed eatery Fatty’s Cafe are trimming staff and offering more deals and perks in an effort to compete for customers’ increasingly scarce patronage.
By Erin Walsh

Irresistible dining deals are on the menu as Queens restaurants try to tempt recession−weary consumers’ palates and wallets.

Diners can treat a friend to a free meal of equal or lesser value on Mondays at Forest Hills eatery Tierra Sana, located at 100−17 Queens Blvd. at 67th Road, as part of the restaurant’s Treat a Friend Mondays promotion, which began Feb. 23. Think you paid too much for your last meal? On Tuesdays, Tierra Sana offers customers the opportunity to pay what they want all day.

These promotions are a way to introduce diners to the healthy way of eating the restaurant espouses, as well as attract new clientele to the year−old establishment, said co−owner Vic Fiallo. Tierra Sana, which adheres to the philosophy of “food for a healthy planet,” eschews the use of processed foods, opting instead to use organic ingredients and serve items that are low in carbohydrates and rich in proteins, said Fiallo.

It’s no coincidence that Tierra Sana offers promotions on Mondays and Tuesdays, which tend to be the slowest days of the week, Fiallo said.

The deals, along with community events such as personal development workshops and writers groups that the restaurant hosts, are intended to eliminate many obstacles that keep people from coming in, said Fiallo.

For repeat customers, Tierra Sana also offers meal plans that diners can purchase for $288 a month, which entitles them to 60 meals, at a cost of less than $5 a meal. These can be used to purchase the restaurant’s daily “balanced meal” specials, or the credit can be applied to other menu items, said Fiallo.

Mojave, located at 22−36 31st St. in Astoria, has noticed a 33 percent decrease in business since September 2008, said general manager Aldo Fedri.

“People spend less,” he said. “They don’t come as often. They cook at home.”

The Southwestern eatery was forced to lay off four part−time employees to preserve the positions of some six full−time employees, Fedri said. As the demand for employees has decreased, the number of job applicants has increased to between two and three job seekers per day, he said.

To attract and retain customers, Mojave has begun offering live music from 7 to 11 p.m. on Wednesday evenings, and has expanded its already−impressive tequila bar from 70 to 140 different varieties. The restaurant also gives every customer a freebie, ranging from desserts to tequila tastings, said Fedri.

“We’re trying to reach out to the customer,” he said. “Before the customer walked in. Now, you have to reach out to them.”

Fedri said that Mojave has cut its spending on newspaper advertising, relying instead on visibility from Web sites such as Yelp, Facebook and Citysearch, as well as word−of−mouth referrals and traffic on the restaurant’s own Web site. The restaurant also collects hundreds of comment cards, and enters the e−mail addresses into their database to directly reach clients, said Fedri.

The most important thing that restaurants can do is to deliver outstanding customer service and offer perks like an outdoor garden or stock special liquors or beers that customers can’t find anywhere else, said Fedri.

“You got to make sure that you’re doing the right thing,” he said. “Treat the customer right.”

Fernando Pena, co−owner of Fatty’s CafÉ, located at 25−01 Ditmars Blvd. in Astoria, said that the casual Latin−themed eatery has noticed a 10 percent dip in business since last January, although the last quarter of the year showed signs of improvement. He attributes the decline to a number of factors, including the rise in gas prices last summer and a dwindling client base, as more and more young professionals who live in the neighborhood lose their jobs and are forced to move back home with their families.

Given Fatty’s niche as an inexpensive eatery, Pena hopes that it will fare well in the current economic climate, when diners are forgoing $30 and $40 meals, and opting for more affordable options.

“If anything, I’m a little optimistic, because I think people are thinking about us,” he said. “(We’ve) had really good weekends, compared with last year.”

To offset costs, Pena said that the restaurant has been buying smarter by switching to different cuts of meat and offering more plentiful side dishes. Later this month, Pena also plans to offer a “commitment meal,” which will be a prix fixe menu served from 2 to 6 p.m. Monday to Thursday, and will include a salad, beverage, entrÉe and coffee for under $20 per person, as a commitment to the community that has helped support Fatty’s.

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