Sharing Success

Behind the Pink Door

For 18 years, our company has published La Trattoria to help Independent restaurateurs exchange proven business-building ideas in order to better compete vs. the price-oriented chains. Of the different types of ideas we have featured in La Trattoria, the most popular ones tend to be marketing related, whether they are ways to successfully attract first timers, increase sales to existing patrons, or encourage regulars to return more often. This got me wondering, of all the marketing ideas we have featured in La Trattoria, which might be most effective in helping restaurants overcome tough times? But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that even the best marketing can only help create profitable, sustainable growth to the extent that the underlying business is sound. So a more valuable question than “What is the most effective type of marketing?” might be “Is the foundation of your business as strong as it can be?”

Let me explain with the following example.

Recently, La Trattoria editor Steve Rouse returned from a family trip to Seattle and told me about an interesting Italian restaurant he visited on the advice of a friend. Apparently, this restaurant is located on the edge of the downtown shopping district, near Pike’s Place Market on the waterfront. Here is what I found most intriguing. This restaurant does not advertise at all. Because it is located off an alley, finding parking is difficult. Steve says that the restaurant has no sign on the building to display its address, and there is no name written on its door. He says that if his friend had not told him to look for a door that is painted pink, he and his family would have missed the restaurant’s location altogether. That is where the restaurant got its name – The Pink Door. Once inside, Steve was greeted by a tumble of music, laughter, the rhythmic sounds of a busy kitchen and wonderful aromas. The tiny dining room was packed with people. The décor was eclectic, with much of the light provided by candles in candelabras. The servers were prompt, polite, and attentive to their guests. Steve says that he and his family found the food to be exceptionally good. Not only that, but despite tough times, the owner said that her restaurant has been serving a record number of customers. In fact, Steve recommended that the next time I am in Seattle I should definitely check it out.

So how has this restaurant survived for years without any traditional “marketing,” even without a name on the door? The old-fashioned way: by word of mouth.

Let me be clear. I am not using this example to suggest that restaurants should follow this rather unorthodox strategy. Instead, what I am saying is that a powerful way to think about your business is imagining how you would compete under the same circumstances as The Pink Door restaurant. What if your business had to survive by word of mouth alone? What if, like The Pink Door, you did not advertise? What if you did not have a sign outside on your building to display your address? What if passers-by could not even tell there was a restaurant behind your door? Said a different way, what if the only thing that mattered to your success was what happens “behind the pink door?”

Would you do anything differently? Are there ways you could further enhance the quality and/or consistency of your food? Is there anything you would add or subtract from your menu? Would you want your employees to serve guests any differently than they do now?

These are deceptively simple, but powerful questions.

Here is my point. It is generally accepted that word of mouth is the most powerful form of “marketing.” And while there are literally hundreds of ways to build upon positive word of mouth, there really is only one way to generate word of mouth itself. For restaurants, that is by wowing customers with food and service that are so consistently superior that they are compelled to recommend it to others. When you get that foundation right, everything else you choose to do inside and outside of your four walls to let people know about your restaurant becomes that much more powerful. On the other hand, time and money spent in “marketing” a business will be poorly spent if the underlying offerings do not live up to the promise. Oh, and by the way, I am really intrigued about visiting The Pink Door the next time I am in Seattle. I just need to remember to ask Steve exactly how to find it! Until next