Random thoughts on building a restaurant

I was a panelist at the House of Genius in Brooklyn last night (BTW - if you have the opportunity, I highly recommend you get involved in House of Genius – it’s very interesting and rewarding).

One of the things that was presented was a new French restaurant someone is planning to open. This was actually pretty exciting for me, because I rarely get to think about or share thoughts around a business like this.

So anyway, one of the challenges or questions that was brought up in the general discussion was “How would you get people initially in the door?”

There were a lot of the usual answers to this around marketing, PR, one-time gimmicks, discounts & specials, Groupon, etc. And many of the ideas were very focused around the location and neighborhood were the restaurant is going to be opening (they already had a great location worked out and even had a small built-in client base to grow from).

But as I thought about it, I kept thinking more and more about slightly different questions…“how would I get people coming back?”…and “how would I get people to pull others in from out of the area?”

That lead me to thinking that the focus shouldn’t be so much in “getting people in the door” as it should be on what people are thinking, feeling, and saying on their first time out the door.

Don’t get me wrong, getting people in the door for the first time is important. But I feel like almost anything ‘new’ in a physical neighborhood is going to pull in a decent amount of foot traffic (just based on local curiosity if nothing else). I also feel like you can get a pretty good initial response from small, traditional, 'grand opening’ activities.

So I wouldn’t worry as much about getting them in, as I would about getting them back in and empowering them to pull others in on repeat visits.

I believe restaurants are incredibly difficult businesses. Location, price, and product are also of course very important, but they are simply table stakes in this game. To break out, and build a following, you’ve got to have a story that is rewarding for the customer to share (ie. interesting, emotional, educational, creative, or something that really touches the customer).

If you focus your efforts on building that story, simplifying that story, and then executing tirelessly on that story (though your marketing, your PR, your cooking, your dinning experience, and every other touch point of the business)…I think you’ll have a shot at breaking through the noise and growing an avid fan base.

Anything else, and you’re just another neighborhood restaurant…maybe great food at great prices, and able to survive, but probably not something people travel from all over to experience…

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This is the personal blog of Kevin Marshall (a.k.a Falicon) where he often digs into side projects he's working on for digdownlabs.com and other random thoughts he's got on his mind.

Kevin has a day job as CTO of Veritonic and is spending nights & weekends hacking on Share Game Tape. You can also check out some of his open source code on GitHub or connect with him on Twitter @falicon or via email at kevin at falicon.com.

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