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5 Marketing Lessons from a Fancy Restaurant

October 28, 2013

Photo courtesy of Geoff Peters

Was at this high-end Mexican joint once. Yes, they exist. Same basic thing that you get at Taco Bell as far as food — beans, rice, corn tortillas, etc. The price was about 100 times more though.

Was the food good? Yes. Better than Taco Bell? Definitely.

But was it 100 times better? Let’s talk about it…

A Good Product vs. Good Marketing

Food is a commodity. You can say you’ve got “vine-ripened tomatoes,” or “heirloom tomatoes,” or whatever other fancy name you can think of for a tomato, but most people have no idea what the difference is nor do they care.

GMO peanuts? Organic peanuts? Do they taste any different? Again, not to most people.

Sure, a lot of people are paying big money for organic, free-range, and “fair trade” food at high-end groceries like Whole Foods, but when those same people eat outside their own homes, the rules change for many of them.

So if it’s not type of food being served, how are some restaurants getting hundreds of dollars per meal while others would be considered overpriced at $10?

What Can You Learn About Marketing From a Fancy Restaurant?

1. Hot and Timely  – Cold doesn’t matter, old doesn’t matter. Regardless of your product, people want it “hot” and they want it quickly. If you’re looking for a way to compete against the big boys in your industry, this is the best way I know of, because the big boys have a huge problem doing this.

I’ll give you an example…

Over the years, I’ve worked with a lot of people from major corporations. Do you know how long it takes them to change something already in motion? Forever! They have to get “permission” (whatever that means) from somebody or some group within the organization, get the legal department to sign off on the decision, and put a bajillion things in place, regardless of how small the change is. And all that time, they’re losing money…

A couple of years ago, I was working with a small film studio doing music licensing for a major release. Film was cut and ready to go, but there was one problem — the studio didn’t have permission to use one of the songs. The promised contract that was supposed to have come through hadn’t been delivered and wasn’t going to be delivered because the owner of the music had changed his mind.

The film was due to debut in a week and, unless you want to legal battle, you can’t use unlicensed music. Now what?

No problem. Took the song out, found a new one that could be licensed (from a small record label that was easy to deal with), and everything was back on track. The film was released as promised and nobody on the outside knew there were any issues.

In today’s business world, fast wins.

2. Custom Options – People can order things straight off the menu, and many will, but providing custom solutions for customers goes a long way to making them happy. Gluten-free diet? A fancy restaurant can handle that. Something not on the menu at all? No problem.

People won’t pay huge money for a “one-size-fits-all” solution for their businesses. If you don’t want “fast food” money for what you do, develop custom and more targeted options.

Beyond that, I think the biggest lesson here is that if you can provide a service and a customer is willing to pay a premium price for it, don’t automatically turn in it down just because it’s not something you normally do.

3. Famous Personality – There is nothing distinct about various locations of a fast food restaurant. On one hand, this is great for customers, since they know what they’re going to get. But like a “one-size-fits-all” menu option, you can’t charge premium pricing for something when people can get the same thing for much less a few blocks away.

The solution to this? A “who” that can’t be copied. For restaurants, this is usually a famous or well-known chef.

If you’re involved with blogging, this strategy is something you see a lot! There are very few innovators in the online space and, because of this, most everybody is saying similar thing.

The most popular blogs all have their versions of a “famous chef” — somebody with a personality and insight not available anywhere else.

Do we really need to read yet another article on authenticity? No. But if you can add something to the conversation which hasn’t already been said before, you have a better opportunity to stand out from the crowd of similar blogs.

4. Sequence Matters – A “meal” served in a restaurant follows a specific sequence. A basic meal is something along the lines of water, drinks, appetizer, main course, and dessert. This is not only the sequence that customers are most comfortable with, it’s also the sequence that makes the most money for the restaurant.

Nobody starts a meal with dessert. If you’re going to make big money in your business, you have to put your customers through a similar sequence. For example, if you’re in the education business, don’t start with the advanced manual if the student hasn’t been through the basics. You could do this, but you’d missing out on revenue as well as potentially hurting the student’s results.

Let’s say you teach blogging. Before you begin, you need to make sure your students have the blogging tools to be successful. Without the correct tools, it doesn’t matter how well they understand what you’re teaching, because they won’t be able to put it into action.

Don’t skip the “appetizer” to get to the meat.

5. Experience Trumps Everything – Domino’s Pizza has never been known for the best quality food, but the experience customers had with “delivery in about 30 minutes” has been enough to make them one of the top pizza retailers in the country. The same is true for many high-end restaurants, where sometimes people are paying simply to be seen sitting at their tables.

The lesson here is that you may think you’re selling one thing, but what people are buying from you is actually something else entirely.

Know what you’re selling!

ABOUT THIS SERIES: Every Monday, I analyze the good, bad, and ugly about the marketing behind a common business or famous personality. See other posts in this series here and, if you have a request for something (or someone) you’d like me to analyze for this series, contact me via Twitter.

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