Calabasas restaurateurs know it's a tough time to do business.
Patrons are tightening their budgets--and their belts. They are eating out less, and when they do they are forgoing a bottle of expensive wine in exchange for a glass of beer, said Carol Washburn, president and chief executive officer of the Calabasas Chamber of Commerce.
In response, local eateries are offering deals, discounts, promotions and anything else owners can think of to lure hungry customers.
Attention to the customer has always been important "but now we have to have made the changes that lets them know we have nothing but a positive attitude," said Santo Salvaggio, manager of Riviera Restaurant and Lounge across from the Commons. "We are 'the house of yes.' "
Riviera offers an extended happy hour from Monday through Thursday that includes a 30 percent discount on dinner and drinks. The restaurant is also waiving corkage fees on Sunday and Tuesday.
"I will not let a human being leave here without being happy," Salvaggio said.
That strategy seems to work for regular happy hour customer David Barr, who works at the nearby Maserati dealership.
"I think 30 percent off [happy hour] is a very good enticement," he said.
At Spumoni, an Italian restaurant, business thrives on visitors from other businesses.
The restaurant is part of a small shopping center at the intersection of Agoura and Las Virgenes roads and has several offices and stores within its immediate vicinity.
Nearby workers had been stopping by often for lunch, but manager Genaro Cruz said that in the last few months there was a drop-off visits.
"A few months ago it slowed down, that's why we sent out the cards," he said.
The cards offer 20 percent off each visit and were specifically designed for local employees.
Cruz said he's beginning to see a difference. "We've started getting more customers and seeing new faces," he said.
Michael Payind, owner of Michael's Pizza at Las Virgenes Road and Thousand Oaks Boulevard, hopes good old-fashioned price cutting and coupons will bring in more phone orders to his 16-year-old restaurant.
A few weeks ago, he started offering a large pizza with up to four toppings for $9.99, which is $7 less than he used to charge.
"It's working fine, I'm getting a lot of orders because of that," Payind said.
But it will take a little more time before he sees a profit from the promotion, because although he's getting more orders, he's still making the same amount of money, Payind said.
One local manager is taking an extra step to make sure people know about his restaurant's bargains: e-mail alerts.
Moez Megji, manager of Fins Creekside restaurant in Old Town Calabasas, said just when things started to look like they were about to turn around, they got worse.
"There was a little awakening, here and there, then it collapsed again," he said.
The downturn helped push Fins Creekside into the digital era.
Via Constant Contact, an e-mail marketing solutions company, the restaurant now both thanks customers and alerts them to specials such as the $25 lobster dinner offered Mondays to Thursdays.
"E-mail is very important to us," Megji said.
Whatever business strategies restaurants use, it's quality service that matters most when it comes to maintaining a robust customer base, Riviera's Salvaggio says.
"If you can present great food and service then that 30 percent and corkage waiver means nothing," he said. "To the customer, it's just a cherry on the cake. It's the customer feeling great walking out the door that matters, not the discount."