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.

Your New Restaurant Isn't About You

I’ve noticed a pattern.

Start up restaurants and coffee bars created by novices nearly always fail.

Start ups restaurants and coffee bars opened by experts nearly always make a lot of money.

Doh! That's old news.

Authentic Engagement

You'd expect me to claim that this is because novices never have enough money for good designs but I’m not going to make that claim.  I think the reason is bigger and to do with creating authentic engagement with customers.  You may think this is obvious but I find it isn’t at all obvious to most people who I consult with.  It’s only obvious to expert restaurateurs, many of who learned hard by failing first when they were novices.  Newbie business owners nearly always get this the wrong way around; they think their restaurant is about them and that they’re important. They may want name it after themselves or their children or a place they've been to and build their format up around their personal experiences and world view.

It's Not About You

If you're thinking of starting a new restaurant please consider that success in food is rarely about what you like, it’s about what engages others, who most likely don’t have the same tastes and experiences as you (or me).  Telling customers what you like by using design or any other means of communication is the hard slog route to qualified success at best. Customers don’t care about your personal passion and they don’t care how this makes you feel. It’s not comfortable but it’s true. (I'm just the messenger here.)

Customers want you to be passionate about what they want.

Groundhog Day

Novice restaurant owners I’ve known who think it’s about them normally find it takes their business a while to take off or that they fail altogether.  Those who make it through to break even and profits then hold up their inward looking method as being successful, which it is for them, so long as they overlook working all those long hours making losses whilst they wait for their customers to understand them.  Just like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day.

Instant Profits

But we see that successful restaurateurs, and all the chain brands, get instant recognition and profits after every new opening by giving customers what they like, which is not always the very best food but a combination of experiences encapsulating reliable food, well-trained service and a pleasant and stimulating environment, all with well-directed novelty.

If you get this right you can get an instantly profitable, happy restaurant right from the get go. I’ve seen this happen many times.  These days word spreads fast via social media so there's no reason you can't do the same.

I'd love to help.

How to Name Your New Cafe or Restaurant

Getting the right name for your new business can make or break it.  The right name can cut through competition clutter at launch and get your proposition in customer’s minds fast and for the right reasons.


The right name will pay in the long term too, by creating more recognition you’ll save on public relations, marketing and advertising forever.

Thing is many go about choosing names the wrong way.  Not long ago I had an email from someone wanting to launch a chain of restaurants starting in Dubai but spreading worldwide.  This is a laudable business objective. I receive similar proposals quite often.

A few weeks later I was copied in on a circular email from the same person with a questionnaire containing a list of new brand names.  The intention was to elicit feedback and choose a name based on popularity.

Surveys like this are next to useless since they are dependent on a poll of personal tastes, which are normally prejudiced by comfort and convention. When you ask people what they think they’ll most likely take it as an invitation to criticse and you’ll end up with a bad name that meets the least resistance.

To roll out fast a new offer has to be disruptive, unconventional and edgy.  People will often react against such edgy ideas in a survey but then adopt them in practice.

If Richard Branson had listened to others I doubt he’d have named his company Virgin. There are lots of similar examples.

So what’s the best way to choose a new brand name?  Surprisingly there’s more science to choosing names than there is art so you can adopt a sys-tematic process that almost guarantees success.

Wally Olins was probably the world’s foremost expert on branding.

Here is what he once wrote about naming a business

“Like symbols names are emotive. Creating and introducing a new name is difficult and complex for the following reasons:

First names have no real life or meaning until they are put into a context, so it is extremely difficult for the people going through the process to appreciate the power of the name until after the event.

Second, individual preferences and feelings are very important.

Third, a very large number of names are already registered and is it difficult to find ‘free’ names.”

I’ve found this to be very true so to help me guide people to choose good names I use the following criteria.  You can use them too.

A name should:

1.         Be easy to read and pronounce, preferably in any language

Will most people be able to spell the name after hearing it spoken? Will they be able to pronounce it after seeing it written?  A name shouldn’t turn into a spelling test or make people feel ignorant.

2.         Have no disagreeable associations

This is a common mistake so try to avoid negative words or connotations.  ‘Chock Shock’ would not be a good name for a chocolate bar.

3.         Be suitable for use as your outlets diversify into different activities

4.  If possible, relate to the offer.

The last two can be mutually exclusive.  McDonalds is a name that does not re-late to the activity of its outlets.  Pizza Hut is a name that does.  Pizza Hut could not easily sell burgers but McDonalds has sold pizzas; both are successful.  First, decide if you want to diversify your offer, if not don’t worry about 3 and concentrate on 4.  If you do want to diversify then you’ll need a neutral name that does not relate to your offer. Instead you can fulfil both criteria with a name that relates to the core values of your business. Try to come up with unique core values.  If the name would look as good or better on another type of business it does not relate enough to yours.

5.         Be registerable, or at least protectable

This is complex and can be slow.  Specialist lawyers will check the name register for a fee.  You should pay them to do this. In the UK you can check the register for free yourself at Many multinational organisations have banks of already protected names and if you inadvertently use one they may have the legal right to stop you and take your profits. At the very least you’ll pay a lot to fight them off.  Common words can’t be protected (but logos using them can be trademarked).

6.         Not date or go out of fashion

7.         Be idiosyncratic       

The last two tend to go hand in hand, be brave and be edgy!

8.         Be something with which a powerful visual style can be associated

Ask your designer to do some rough logos. If they need to add a lot of graphic frills to explain what your outlet does then I’d suggest you start over or get another designer.  Most of the best brands have simple logotypes without complex symbols.

9.         Have charisma

Ugly doesn’t sell, remember this if you invent new words or spellings too. 

A very few names will fit all these criteria but you’ll find that if you keep them short and they trip off the tongue then you’ll be on the right lines.


Anyone can come up with the right name but it may take a long time to arrive. The skill is in resisting the temptation to let time pressure force a poor choice early.

Don’t adopt a name that doesn’t meet all the criteria and don’t worry about who likes it. If you conduct a survey make sure you ask people to judge the name against the criteria and not on personal tastes. In fact if any of your friends like it’ll almost certainly be too conventional.



Spreads from a design guide for a new grill bar and restaurant with a powerful name and visual style