Better than it needs to be

A lot of people who contact me just want a new restaurant cheap or quick, and normally both.  They can rarely afford a designer, let alone the costs of building the design itself.

I politely decline to work on projects like these because I don’t find fulfillment in taking money for designs that I know will never get made, only frustration.  It’s really better for people on a budget or in a rush to save their money and make do without a designer.

Instead of design, they can create customer engagement with nothing but the power of their personalities. This works if they are outgoing, warm and generous but often traps them front of house full time.  No days off, ever, which is cool, if that’s what they want.  Some do.

What if we look at that restaurant another way though?

Instead of making it as cheap as possible and building it fast why not make it more generous, more fair, more responsive to its customers than it needs to be? Why not deliver the food and service with more flair, more care and more urgency?

Why not create a compelling message around good food and drink in a refreshing, comfortable and stimulating environment?

This builds a much stronger business with the right foundations for growth and expansion because it isn’t reliant on the charisma of just one person but instead on the power of its generous ethos, which is embodied in its design.  A design that can be repeated time and again and which can be managed by a team and not just one person.

Of course the type of people who create restaurants like this do it because they can, not because they have to. They invest the time and money it takes without fear.

I’m on board with people like that, every time!


13 Fruit Pies And Other Short Stories

Too Many Prawns

I had a delicious lunch in an Indian restaurant recently and then someone reminded me of this famous quotation . . .

"A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away."

This made me wonder if all 18 King Prawn dishes on the fish section the huge, multi-section menu were really necessary and why so many restaurant owners fall into the trap of thinking that offering their customers more options leads to greater profits.

18 Prawn Dishes In One Section of One Menu

18 Prawn Dishes In One Section of One Menu

The Paradox of Choice

The Paradox of Choice - Why More Is Less,  is a book by American psychologist Barry Schwartz. In the book, Schwartz argues that eliminating consumer choices can greatly reduce anxiety.  Here’s why: we humans are more afraid of making the wrong choice than we are of making no choice at all so when confronted with a large array of options we’ll most likely either buy the one we already know we like or we’ll buy nothing.

You might think that this means that you have to offer every customer a dish that they already like but that’s what leads to an unmanageable menu (perhaps with too many prawn dishes) to anxiety for your customers and to an inefficient business that’s difficult to manage.

The World’s First Business Computer

Most probably you’ve never heard of Lyons but chances are that if your grandparents are British they’ll remember them with affection.

In 1894 Lyons started as a teashop in Piccadilly, London and, from 1909, developed this into a vast nationwide chain of teashops known as Lyons' Corner Houses.  Lyons also ran high class restaurants and hotels. From the 1930s Lyons began to develop a pioneering range of teas, biscuits and cakes that were sold in grocery stores across the world.

Leo 1 - The World's First Business Computer

Leo 1 - The World's First Business Computer


After the second world war the top management of Lyons foresaw the need of new electrical computers for organising the distribution of cakes and other highly perishable products. Therefore, they helped finance the University of Cambridge's Electronic Delay Storage Automatic Calculator (EDSAC), built their own programmable digital computers and, in 1951, became the first business to use a computer. The Lyons Electronic Office, LEO 1, It handled the company's accounts and logistics.

Of course by today’s standards LEO 1 was slow and crude. It was also huge, taking a whole large room to create the computing power of a modern hearing aid.  Nevertheless, it enabled Lyons to analyse sales data in unprecedented detail.

13 Fruit Pies

When I was a small kid in London Lyons Individual Fruit Pies were a treat that we always took on family picnics in the country.  First introduced by Lyons in the 1930's, long before I was available to eat them, these square-shaped pies had fruit or fruit puree fillings and were individually boxed.

Eventually, and perhaps due to the analytical power of early computing, the individual pies were made in 13 different flavours:  apple, apricot, raspberry, rhubarb, gooseberry, mince, blackberry & apple, blackcurrant, cherry, orange, peach, pineapple, and lemon curd. Sometimes these flavours changed but as one was added another was taken away so that the total range only ever numbered 13 choices.

It turns out that 13 flavours are the optimal range of choice.  Jam manufacturers’ too found that any more choice than 13 options often leads to lower sales, not more.

Worth remembering then because the chances are that if you have fewer than 13 choices on your menu, your restaurant will do better, not worse.

Found your USP? Now find your TLC

Time and again I read the same tired advice about USPs. “Find your Unique Selling Point and your troubles are over, your business will grow, you’re on your way to world domination.”

Easy, except it isn’t because in food you almost certainly won’t find a new USP. Chances are that at best what you’ll find is a common selling point, with a novel twist.

However, thankfully there are two reasons why you don’t need to concern yourself about your USP:

First and most obviously, because most people don’t want something unique most of the time, they just want that novel twist, and,

second and most importantly, because the world moved on from USPs way back.

How The World Moved On

USPs have been part of the mantra of sales training since the 1940’s and are lame business advice trotted out by sales trainers and business gurus who haven’t understood how during the same period branding, originally an ancient intuitive art, became scientific and omnipotent.  Branding came about mainly through the work of extremely far-sighted and talented graphic designers whose brilliance still remains widely misunderstood and unappreciated, perhaps because non-designers find it hard to perceive how much effort great design takes.

Branding seeks to differentiate by attaching a calculated set of emotional core values to a name, behavior manual, logo and visual style.  Branded organizations and products convey consistent messages and create value added desire even when there’s often no added value (although they work best where there is). Whole categories of goods with little or no intrinsic merit are built on nothing but branding: energy drinks and bottled mineral water are examples, so are expensive running shoes that aren’t used for running. These items have no USPs, they have common selling points with emotions attached. I’m not going to name names but I am sure you can think of many more.

Are Your Labels on The Outside?

Branding can be used for good or bad objectives but either way it is a highly manipulative tool. It’s mainly used to add shareholder value to common products.  We see that some brand names are worth squillions yet many branded products are unhealthy or consume unsustainable resources and exist only to appeal to our fragile personal vanities.

As a result, many people are starting to see through brands and there are early signs that branding is losing trust. A counter-branding, no-logo, culture has begun to emerge.

I predict that people from the future will look back at our times and wonder why we all wore the labels of our clothes on the outside instead of the inside. They won’t get taken in as easily as us, they’ll look for more than shallow branding.

What’s next?

So if people don’t want USPs and they can see through brands what do they want?

That’s easy: they want sincere, generous and personal products and services, made just for them.

Dale Carnegie pointed the way back at the beginning of the last century.  In 1936 Carnegie wrote a famous book called How To Win Friends and Influence People, it’s still in print today and now we’re becoming social it’s more relevant than ever.  It’s a long book full of many examples but two of its points are:

Never talk about yourself, talk about the other person, because people only like to talk about themselves, and,

everybody likes to feel important.

You can test this for yourself next time you meet someone new. Simply ask them a few questions, listen and see what happens.

The Speed of Light

The internet has given all of us a means to talk to one another person to person.  So businesses can now communicate with every individual customer socially one on one.  Much more importantly, according to Dale Carnegie, individual business people can listen to their customers and in doing so make them feel important. 

So you (not your PR consultant) can find out what interests to each of your customers and you can engage with them sincerely and personally.  Your customers can share their insights with you and their friends and you can get accurate, honest feedback all for next to no cost except a little time. In other words, you can build genuine sincere engagement with your customers. At the speed of light. How much is this worth to your business?

Not much success will come from special offers, display ads or other trite mass-appeal techniques from the past. These old-school advertising methods come from the days when big companies made average products for average people and pushed them by interrupting huge television audiences, who had far fewer channels to watch, with mass advertising. People are resistant to these old, crude and insincere sales methods. They do not sit well in modern social communications because they are accurately viewed with skepticism.

Such techniques have simply become obnoxious old-fashioned mass advertising clutter in your modern customer’s feeds and inboxes, just like all the obnoxious clutter in yours that you ignore too.

Be social

Social media is about being social so I recommend you don’t do or say anything on line that you wouldn’t during any other sort of social gathering. Jamming up other people’s minds with selfish demands for attention is always a turn off and what you post on line stays there, forever as far as we can predict.

Instead go ahead make people feel important by asking questions and listening to their answers. Give away tip and recipes and engage with them personally using any other sincere and generous methods you can think of. You can do this in your restaurant and cafe too, without the internet, in person, face to face.

Imagine how powerful it would be for the CEO of McDonald's to start communicating, naturally and generously with his customers. Maybe that can never happen, but managers can be empowered and it can most certainly happen in your business, today.

Showing your customers some TLC might not make you unique but it will make you loved.

And if you want my help to find some TLC with a novel twist I’d love to hear from you.

Growing Prize Potatoes

I was just checking this year’s first crop of potatoes, which are growing strongly in pots in my greenhouse.  

I only ever grow one potato in each pot since I’ve found from previous years that if I plant more I don’t get a better crop. I just get lots of small potatoes that are hard to clean.

Trying to grow potatoes and tomatoes in the same pot leads to complete disaster.

This reminded me of a conversation I often have with restaurant and coffee shop owners who aren’t doing so well. Their usual solution is to ask me to design ways to add more services, perhaps so they can open at breakfast as well as lunch and dinner. Sometimes they want want to add ever more dishes to the menu.  I’ve never known any of these things transform a struggling business. This is because customers won’t believe that they can be good at lots of different things all at the same time.

Famous For One Thing

I think this is worth repeating another way.  It’s not possible to be famous for doing lots of things averagely, it’s only possible to be famous for being the best at something.

So mainly, what I find when I'm asked to help failing restaurants is that they got left behind and would be better fixing the problems with what they already do instead of making more work.  Mostly, they’re best advised to reduce their menus and improve their focus.

I once knew a posh chocolate shop owner who, in a failed attempt to improve his business, which was doing just fine anyhow, started selling sandwiches at lunch.  The sandwiches sold well but his customers no longer understood his story and they stopped buying chocolate, which was his most profitable line.  He went bust.

You may argue that there are exceptions.  You’ll say. “what about McDonalds?” The world’s biggest restaurateurs or Weatherspoon’s, who own pubs everywhere and open all day.  My answer is that McDonalds are famous for being fast and Weatherspoon’s are famous for being cheap.  These are believable, focused stories managed in microscopic detail by experts.

So, if you’re ever tempted to add more products or services to your business make sure to remember that you can only get one good crop from your pot.

Beware The Restaurant That No-One Else Wants

This is a Mistake Novices Sometimes Make.

In most regions chain operators know when a viable property becomes available and landlords often have their pick of desirable tenants

It may not be safe to assume you've been lucky finding a property no-one else has snapped up first. Chances are it's not what it seems. It may be too small to be viable or run down and too costly to refurbish or it may be located where their aren't enough customers

Independent operators who know what they're doing can sometimes earn a good living from properties the chains don't want to manage but it's important to know why the big operators turned it down before you take it on

And that you do the sums to make sure you can get the profits you need pay back your investment

Even if you make a success you're still vulnerable to a chain opening near and benefiting from the market you built up

Please take care. I've seen this go wrong and it has devastating effects