Don’t give your customers what you want

How to make sure your products will sell

Pretty confusing main title, isn’t it? I’ll bet you’re wondering exactly what I’m talking about.

Along with the other biggest mistakes restaurants owners make, offering customers what the owner thinks is good, instead of what the customer thinks is good, is a surefire way to lose money in the restaurant business.

Here’s the scenario I’ve seen a dozen times.

  • Young couple sells their house and moves to a new city
  • New city doesn’t have restaurants offering their favorite foods from previous city
  • Couple decides to leverage all their assets and open a restaurant selling the fantastic food from their last city that they know everyone will love if they would just try it
  • Couple doesn’t realize the complexity of the restaurant business, and opens up underfunded and underexperienced
  • No one comes to restaurant, and couple blames their vendors, their employees, their landlord and their customers for their failure
  • Couple loses their restaurant, still owes $100,000 to the bank, loses their home which they used as collateral for the loan, owes $500,000 for the next 10 years of the restaurant lease, files bankruptcy and spends the next 20 years paying off their debt

Pretty sad scenario, isn’t it? It’s very common though. As a matter of fact, failure in the restaurant business is more common than success. Studies from Cornell University, Michigan State University and Ohio State University have found that around 60% of new restaurants fail around the three year mark. Between the 5th and 10th year, closer to 70% fail. While that is no where near the long-rumored 90-% failure rate that has been unsubstantially perpetuated for years, it’s still playing against the odds.

Now you’re supposed to ask, “How do I beat the odds?”. I’m glad you asked, and I’m going to help you past the first hurdle, and a common mistake, giving customers what YOU want, instead of what they want. Restaurant owners are notoriously egotistical. Sorry if I’m offending anyone, but it’s true. I’ve been this same way myself. Owners have the bad habit of projecting their own tastes on their public. They think because they believe something is delicious, that everyone else will too. Some of them are right. Many of them have eclectic tastes, and find themselves to be wrong though.

Our egos tell us that if we like something, it must be good. If we really like something, and we believe ourselves to be very knowledgable about that something, then it must be great, and will make us millions if we bring it to people who haven’t had it before.

The fatal flaw with this reasoning is that people who haven’t had something before will not have a craving for that something. There will be no demand for that something. So, while rotisserie fired Peking Duck may have been a hot ticket in your eclectic little community in San Francisco, that doesn’t mean it will be all the rage when you move to Phoenix. I know what you’re thinking, “You obviously haven’t tried Peking Duck, if you had, you would love it.”

You may be right. Your favorite food from your last home may be fantastic. It could possibly even spurn a following in a new community, and support a restaurant, once everyone develops a taste for it. There is the kicker. How can people have a taste for something they haven’t had? They can’t. You can’t build a following for a fantastic new dish or type of food in an area where people don’t crave that food. At least not without having a huge marketing budget to give free food to ten times the people you need to sustain your business. Until someone knows what they are missing, they can’t miss it, and they won’t crave it.

The moral to my point is this. Don’t let your emotions and your ego decide what you are going to offer your guests. You may think something is the greatest dish, or type of food, in the world, but if the people you are trying to sell it to don’t know about it, it’s not going to sell. Give your customers something they already want. If you don’t know, conduct a survey. Ask them if they know about a particular food, if they would go to a restaurant just to get it, how far they would drive for it, and what they would pay. Let your customers determine what you are going to offer them.

Don’t give your customers what you want, give them what they want.

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About friendthatcooks

Food service consultant and owner/operator of an in-home weekly meal prep service in Kansas City, Chicago, St. Louis, Omaha, Des Moines, Denver, Milwaukee and Wichita

Posted on May 2, 2008, in Articles and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. Hafa Adai Bandon,

    I learned this from a customer about ten years ago.

    To make the story short, I was running a quick service independent with a captured audience which means the same people every day buying breakfast and lunch.

    Here on Guam, Spam is a bigger seller than in Hawaii per capita. One day a fairly attractive lady, a regular customer in her 30’s who is a judge, asked why I do not have spam on the menu and the conversation went like this:

    Lady: “So. Kevin, why don’t you have spam on the menu, we love it!”

    Me: “Oh I hate spam, won’t even feed it to my kids. If I won’t eat it I won’t serve it”

    Lady: “Well, Kevin, I personally don’t give a F@#$ what you eat or even your kids for that matter. I want you to sell me some spam for breakfast.”

    Me: “You’re absolutely right! I will buy your breakfast in the morning”

    The next day I had Spam, bought her breakfast and spam went on to be the biggest seller on the menu.

    I agree with you 100%. It’s not about you and your ego at all. It’s about being humble enough to sell your customers what they want. Whether you like it or not, does not matter.

    Great article to remind us who we are really supposed to please.

    Kevin Dietrichs
    Guam Community College
    Chef Instructor
    Chef/Owner
    Dinner for Two Catering

  2. Great story Kevin. Exactly what I’m talking about. Thank you for helping me illustrate my point.

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