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From the Front Lines: Restaurants

"The coronavirus pandemic has decimated the industry," says independent agent Craig Balco. "Many restaurants, especially the new ones, are on such tight budgets that they really need to stay on track with their finances just to stay open."
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From the Front Lines: RestaurantsCraig Balco

Risk Management Advisor 

Strategic Insurance Services

Clearwater, Florida

How did you get started at your agency?  

I met Doug Levi, owner of Strategic Insurance Services, when we were on the local board of the Pinellas Association of Insurance Agents in Florida. We're both from the Philadelphia area and immediately had a strong connection, particularly through our love of sports. Fast forward a few years and I had left my previous agency with thoughts of starting my own agency. However, Doug offered me the opportunity to grow my book with his agency with a plan to eventually go out on my own.

Why the restaurant insurance market?  

I grew up in the restaurant business. I started working in my friend's parents' catering and banquet hall when I was 14. I also worked in restaurants and bars through my late 20s so I feel like I know the industry. I understand the tight margins that come with it and the many challenges from the back to the front of the house as well as on the customer side.

Biggest industry changes?

The coronavirus pandemic has decimated the industry. Many restaurants, especially the new ones, are on such tight budgets that they really need to stay on track with their finances just to stay open. Closing for a few weeks has been detrimental to many but closing for months has made it impossible for many to reopen. 

Besides the pandemic, social media has brought the biggest change. It can be a restaurant owners best friend or worst enemy, depending on the Google or Yelp reviews. However, at its core, year after year the restaurant industry seems to have a consistent familiarity, which is something I really enjoy about it. 

Biggest challenges?

Finding workers. Some restaurants that have reopened are limiting their seating because they don't have the staff to handle a full restaurant. They're biting the bullet until they can provide the service that will bring their customers back again. This is having a direct impact on their income. 

Future trends?  

Dialing back their menu options. Do a few things really well, as opposed to five pages of mediocrity. Here in Florida, owners are looking for different types of space, such as those with large outdoor seating areas as opposed to an all-interior space. The pandemic showed that you can still make money if you have the right space.

Restaurant insurance advice for a fellow agent?

Every new restaurant owner thinks they're going to do $1 million in sales the first year and many agents will write a policy based on that sales estimate. However, I have seen that initial goals have a tendency to come up short. Don't crush their dreams, but temper their expectations. 

Know your industry and know your carrier markets. Many carrier programs exclude certain things that certain restaurants offer. Make sure you understand everything that your client is doing or not doing, such as providing entertainment five nights a week or a dance floor. Many times, they won't come out and give you all the information for a number of reasons, so do some digging. 

Favorite success story?  

The best success stories are when your client has a banner year, or they open their second and third location, or they introduce you to their friend that owns a bunch of restaurants because they trust you based on what you have done for them. 

Olivia Overman is IA content editor.

Friday, October 29, 2021