Overall revenue for restaurants across the state fell in December and January compared to the winters of previous years, but some central Maine restaurants bucked the trend.
Some restaurants in the Kennebec County and the surrounding area reported that revenue was up this winter compared to the same months last year despite more snow and colder temperatures.
In some cases, restaurant owners and managers said they benefited from the icy, cold weather. The ice storm that knocked power out for thousands of Mainers at the end of December provided some restaurants with an unexpected boost as people without power and hundreds of out-of-state linemen in the area to restore power looked for places to eat.
“This winter has actually been really, really good for us,” said Ashley Wardwell, general manager of Lisa’s Restaurant & Catering in Augusta. “The power outages over Christmas actually gave us a big boost.”
Wardwell said the Bangor Street restaurant was packed for three or four days during the widespread outages, and the catering business picked up a lot of customers by helping feed the more than 1,000 workers from Central Maine Power Inc. and out of state utility companies.
“I think we’re Mainers, and people still brave the snow most of the time,” Wardwell said.
Unlike the overall state, the Augusta area saw an increase in restaurant revenue in December compared to last year, according to numbers recently released by Maine Revenue Services. The Waterville area also showed a decline in restaurant revenue, but some individual restuarants in the city also reported having good winters.
Greg Dugal, executive director of the Maine Restaurant Association, said the influx of linemen in the area could be a reason why the revenue didn’t take a hit in Augusta, and it could have masked what may have otherwise been a more difficult winter.
“It’s a huge impact when you have hundreds of people, and they have no place eat. It’s not like they can go home,” he said.
Still, Dugal said winters with lots of storms and messy weather tend to hurt restaurants.
“In my mind, there’s no question that the weather, for many reasons, was a contributing factor to the flat or declining numbers, depending on the community, in the state,” he said.
Last December was the coldest December in Augusta since 1989, and there was more snow — nearly 30 inches — than any December in the last six years, according to the National Climatic Data Center.
Snowstorms on weekends can be particularly tough for restaurants, Dugal said, because it’s often lost revenue that can’t be recovered. Those that serve fresh food like seafood and vegetables may end up throwing away some of it, he said.
Geoff Houghton, owner of The Liberal Cup in Hallowell and Run of the Mill in Saco, said restaurants differ from other businesses, for instance a car dealership, because someone will still buy a car if a storm delays the purchase.
“If you’re going out to dinner and you can’t because of the snowstorm, you’re not going to go twice next week. You’ll never get that business back,” he said.
Houghton’s Hallowell bar and restaurant was not one of the ones that saw an increase in business this winter.
It’s the first time The Liberal Cup has had a decline since it opened in 2000.
Besides winter storms affecting his bottom line — especially when the ice storm at the end of December knocked out power at the restaurant near Christmas — Houghton said he thinks higher heating bills have also cut into people’s budgets.
He said he’s used about 25 percent more propane this year to heat The Liberal Cup compared to last year, and others are likely feeling a similar pinch.
“Our type of place would be one of the first to take a hit when a family is sitting around trying to figure out where to spend the money,” Houghton said.
He said another loser in big winter storms, or at least anticipated larger winter storms, is restaurant employees. Houghton said he might tell half of his staff to not come in if a big storm is predicted.
Unlike the The Liberal Cup, the restaurant at the Senator Inn and Spa in Augusta reported having a very good winter, with restaurant revenue up around 10 percent, according to General Manager Roger Bintliff.
The storms with power outages provided a boon for the restaurant-side of the business because people without power checked into the inn, Bintliff said. With all 125 rooms filled, it usually means there are 250 people who don’t want to drive somewhere to eat, he said.
Bintliff said the inn and restaurant also served linemen restoring power, including on Christmas day, when many places were closed.
In the Waterville area, restaurant revenue fell nearly 10 percent in December compared to the year before, and this January’s revenue remained mostly flat compared to 2013.
However, some Waterville restaurants said they didn’t see that decline.
Pat Goodnow, general manager of Joseph’s Fireside Steakhouse on West River Road, said this winter was better than last year, although she wouldn’t say by how much.
“Other than days that were blaring snow storms, I don’t think the cold winter affected us at all,” Goodnow said.
The owner of Buen Apetito next to Railroad Square Cinema, Sue LaPlante, said revenue was not lower than any other winter.
“I would say nothing was really worse due to the weather,” she said. “We took dips at the usual times that we usually take dips, and we picked up at the times we usually pick up.”