Success Stories

The Italian Fisherman

While some cost oriented chains continue sacrificing food quality and/or portion sizes to reach “lower price points,” restaurateur Dan Dalpra is having one of his best years ever by doing the exact opposite. That is, he has largely ignored price itself and instead focused on meeting customers’ changing preferences, while doubling down on making his food demonstrably superior!


Overlooking Lake Chautauqua in upstate New York, The Italian Fisherman restaurant is known for its fresh seafood and Italian entrées. Like many restaurateurs in recent years, Dan has noticed that, on average, his regulars are visiting a bit less often and ordering a bit less food per meal. But while some operators might assume all customers are becoming more “price sensitive,” Dan finds that his guests are just choosing to spend their money more wisely.

For example, instead of automatically opting for multiple courses (appetizers, salads, entrées, and desserts) and not finishing everything, some guests are now preferring to order just enough food to satisfy their appetite at the time. But, whether it is a little or a lot, Dan knows whatever they order they expect to truly savor!

That is why maximizing ingredient quality has become even more important to Dan than ever. For example, The Italian Fisherman has earned a reputation in the region for really fresh tasting seafood, the result of insisting on fish flown in fresh daily from wherever it was caught the day before. Highlighting this on his menu helps Dan’s guests (and staff) understand why the fish tastes so fresh, and it also subtly educates them on why Dan’s prices will never be the cheapest on the block.

But beyond maximizing ingredient quality, Dan has also looked for ways to adapt his offerings to his customers’ changing lifestyles.

For example, guests who limit themselves to just an entrée for appetite reasons may still crave the flavor variety provided by appetizers or multiple courses. For them, Dan created his popular “Italian Tapas Trio,” an entrée sized threesome of uniquely flavorful specialties, presented on visually distinctive serving plates.

By the way, while some guests are choosing smaller portions, the trend is not universal. For example, when individual dessert sales softened a bit, Dan did not just assume price was to blame. Instead, he wondered whether some folks are becoming more self conscious about self indulgence.

So Dan tested a radically different approach to offering dessert by doubling the size (and price) of his signature chocolate cake. He then retrained servers to present it as being “so big, it usually takes two or three friends to finish.”

Whether sharing dessert feels less “decadent,” guests are tempting one another to splurge, or the eye poppingly large slices are just too big to resist, cake sales actually increased as a result!

Dan also knows how to make guests feel special. For example, when Dan notices old friends lingering after a great meal together, he may drop by their table with a bottle of Sambucca, inviting them to toast “life, love, and longevity” on the house.

Dan’s experience demonstrates that while how some guests choose to order may be changing, it is still consistently superior food (while helping them “feel the love”) which brings them back for more.