A local institution in Red Bank, Danny’s Grill & Wine Bar has stayed the course for 43 years, changing its name and focus repeatedly, adapting to the times, but always, above all, striving to please customers. If you eat there, there’s a good chance owner Danny Murphy himself will appear at your table to inquire if you’re happy. He combines his “old time restaurateur philosophy” with a very modern focus on social media and the Web. On a recent morning, Danny (it’s hard to call him anything else) took a reservation from another local luminary who slowed her car to greet him while we photographed him outside the Bridge Avenue eatery. The creator of seven restaurants, father of two children, and co-founder of Riverfest answers, with grace and humor, our five questions here.
Interview With Danny Murphy
Question: What advice do you give for marketing a small business?
Number one, join local business networking groups. I belonged to one for 12 years. You’ll meet other professionals in other fields and get your name out. Then, you definitely must do social media. If you can’t do it, find someone who can. Get your name on the Internet. A website is mandatory. You do have to spend some money on advertising. Print and radio and TV–local cable is very effective. How much depends upon how much you have backing your business. A lot of people go into business underfinanced and that can be fatal.
Question: How do you weather a recession?
[Laughs.] Don’t spend any money. No! Today you must provide good value and have a good product. You have to be willing to buy your good customers a drink. If you make a mistake, you better correct it. I have people who come in all the time. My menu’s very diverse. You can eat here seven nights a week. You have to let people know you will cut a deal, cut a price. See what your competition is doing. Keep your own expenses to a minimum. I’ve been single most of my life. If you have a business and a wife and kids and house, man, you better be working your butt off. [Laughs.] When recession comes, it’s hard. I’ve changed Danny’s seven times. Danny’s Italian Restaurant, then Steakhouse, now it’s Grill and Wine Bar. In-between I’m remodeling and renovating. Do what you can to constantly change. Companies are spending a fortune on the inside of their buildings and that’s hard to do in a recession without very deep pockets.
Question: What kind of research goes into your business decisions?
When I realized there were more Italian restaurants coming into town than you could count, I had to change. I heard about “dry-aging steaks.” I had no clue what that meant. I spent almost a year learning it, visiting New York steakhouses. The sushi was almost an accident. A friend wanted to partner. We ended the partnership but I still offer sushi. Up until ‘08, I was grossing almost $2 million a year – nice for a restaurant this size. Since then, we’re off by 30-40 percent. Volume is good but they’re spending much less. They don’t even buy coffee at the end of a meal. But your labor cost never drops. You make do, do the best you can. I cut back on print and did more with social media and networking.
Question: Is cutting marketing in a downturn a good idea?
That’s a tough question because I always went on the premise that you should advertise while you’re busy because you have money and people are going out. If you advertise when it’s slow, people will see the ad but when they get money they won’t remember it. I might be wrong on that. But use social media all the time. Never stop that. Never stop networking. We have it set up so anything on Facebook goes to Twitter. Once in a while I’m on Facebook but I really should be writing a blog.
Question: You’re renowned around town for chatting with customers while they’re eating. Tell us about that.
It’s my job to walk around and I find more lapses in service because I’m asking everyone ‘how’s everything?’ and if don’t get a great response right away, I’ll ask, ‘what happened? What’d we do wrong?’ Your staff are human and make mistakes but in this business, mistakes can kill you. I go to a restaurant in New York. When they opened in 1969, the owner, Jimmy, was always there, and the hostess, Eleanor, greeted you at the door by name and it just made you feel part of the place. That old world restaurateur philosophy became part of me. I really enjoy people. I work while other people are playing and then I go out when other people are working. It works for me.