45 – Increasing Restaurant Profitability with lessons learnt from the 2017 NRA Show in Chicago


This special podcast covers the first two days from the National Restaurant Association Show in Chicago.  The show is absolutely massive and after 2 days we have only down 2/3s of the show.  There are show many people to talk to, some many ideas to explore and some much food to sample :).

We’ve gone looking for the best ideas to improve profitability in your restaurant, so we are looking at the people, the places, the processes, the product and the produce that is at the show.

People:  Their are coaches, some who have some great systems to help Restaurants and Bars to run a lot more efficiently, we talk to the guys from Grub Hub and

Products:  We look at some massive copper beer mugs from Barbarian brands. 

Produce:  There are some great new products at the show.  Aerated kombucha tea, and we look at the difference between Chilean Sea Bass and Patagonian Toothfish.  A lot of the produce have a really interesting story behind it and when distributors are trying to sell it to you, they tell that story. But too often that story gets forgotten in what you tell your customers about the produce.  How can you better tell the stories of the items on your menu, or should you get produce with better stories?

There is plenty more that we talk about and we will be sharing more of the things we’ve learned in future episodes.

We end with a great experiential dining concept, the Saved by the Max popup Restaurant, based on the 80’s show, Saved by the bell.

Right click here and save-as to download this episode to your computer.

Podcast transcript on Episode 45: Increasing Restaurant Profitability with lessons learnt from the 2017 NRA Show in Chicago

JAMES ELING: Hey, it’s James from Marketing4Resturants here. Welcome to Episode 45 of Secret Sauce, the Restaurant marketing podcast: Increasing your restaurant’s profitability with lessons learned from the NRA [National Restaurant Association] Show 2017.

Hey, hey! And yes, really excited to be podcasting from Chicago this week. We are halfway through, so it’s late Sunday night. We are halfway through the NRA Show and I wanted to get set before the end of the show, what I want to do is go through some of the lessons that we’ve already learned from the NRA Show. And I think it’s a really big opportunity for restaurants owners to be getting out and to get a whole heap of value about ways that they can change their business. And I think that to what Ana Ros said, she started going to these trade shows to be exposed to what it was that other people were doing in the industry and because restaurant industry tends to be with very insular. This is a perfect opportunity for restaurant owners to get out and about and to see what’s actually going on.

We started off our trip to Chicago, I was lucky enough to go to Alinea, one of the top 50 restaurants in the world. I think, it’s the second best restaurant in the United States. Absolutely amazing. It’s the second time I’ve been to Alinea. I’m going to do another podcast about it because [Chef] Grant Achatz has completely redesigned the dining room, completely redesigned the menu; a whole heap of new things, a whole heap of new lessons that, I think, that can be poured out and put into virtually any sort of environment.

The way that they structure the experience, the way that they structure the food, the kind of things that they do–there’s a lot of lessons in there. So, we’ll probably do a separate podcast as we will not rev it on too much about now. For all we do want to rev it on all about is, what it is you can get out of a show like the NRA Show so obviously if you’re not in the United States, it’s far to get here. I know that just as well as anyone, it was an hour flight for us from Melbourne to Sydney. A 16-hour flight to Dallas, and from Dallas, it was however long it takes to get from Dallas to Chicago. I’m pretty sure I slept through nearly all of it. I was pretty tired by the end of it.

There’s a lot of shows out there. Of course, the NRA Show is the big daddy of them all. I’m not sure what the figures are for this year, I think it’s like 80,000 people, there are just truckloads of people and it’s interesting because tomorrow is going to be the big day, Monday, tomorrow’s going to be the big day. There was a huge number of people today and Saturday. A massive number of exhibitors. For me, it comes down to when you come to something like this, you obviously get to see the product the people are trying to sell. It’s also about the people that you meet, the produce that’s there, the procedures that people are working with.

Lessons learnt from the NRA Show in Chicago

This is your big opportunity for professional development. It’s the chance to take some time off from the restaurant to clear your head a little bit, particularly if you’re in Chicago then you just go into trade a show in Chicago. If you’re coming from anywhere else then, you’re actually going to have to go there and I think the process of going to a different place gives you a little bit head time, to be able to think about the restaurant and gives you a little bit of distance from the physical locations. So that you can start thinking about the problems that you’ve got in the restaurant and it’s a good idea to have a list of questions that you’ve got when you come to a show like this, so that you can be looking for answers.

The thing I do is, you walk along and you see every stall. And you think, what does this person know? How could I learn something from them? And if you go with an attitude like that, I think that sort of sets you to really get the most of value out of it. But the big thing is, today, we’re halfway through the show and I have this three massive holes plus the bar shows. The bar shows with all of the alcohol which is lots of fun.

I’ve probably done half of it, so I’m not going to get to see everyone this year. It’s just that huge. I do spend a bit of time talking to people, so it’s very interesting. The sheer size of all the people with all of the products they got, so people it’s great to catch up with. I met up with the Eric Cacciatore from Restaurant Unstoppable. Of course  we had a good chat, we plan to catch up a little later and have a few more beers, and talk about podcasting. I’ve met people from the Secret Sauce as well. They either recognized me or have arranged to meet them. Karl, it’s great to meet with you, lots of other people we’ve been talking to, it was exciting meeting Phil Villapiano an Oakland Raiders player from Super Bowl XI, a little bit before my time. Bit of a Raiders fan we don’t get too see too much of the NFL in Australia. He works for a logistics company, WIN Logistics which is an aggregator of, it’s a software platform for aggregating distribution, so you can cut distribution costs.

Now, at a restaurant show? You think that they [NFL players] wouldn’t get a lot of interest. Tell you what, he has one of the longest queues and I was in it because it was the opportunity to meet to Phil. He’s quite a famous linebacker from back in the day and he met everyone in the line. He was having his photo taken and signed footballs. Which I thought, “Wow, isn’t that a really interesting way of–he was the only guy who was sort of doing that thing that I’ve seen so far in the show. And it worked for him because the queue was massive. People were really excited to be meeting with him.” It’s also, the other thing I think really interesting is the ad hoc meetings that you have.

The search for the elusive solo Chicago deep-dish pizza

Last night I went out for pizza and, I’m going tell you, it was quite actually a torturous event. It took me about a half an hour to decide where to go, I actually gave up and was, sort of you know what, I’m just going for just wander and see what I can find. The issue was, I wanted to get deep dish pizza but looking at it, I thought, there’s no way that I could eat all of that, and it’s just going to waste because I don’t have fridge in the hotel room. Staying in the Congress Plaza, FYI, I haven’t seen any ghosts yet, which is super exciting. What I was looking for and the smalls were like $25 so I thought, if the pizza is $25 it’s going to be massive. There’s no way, I’m going to be able to eat that all by myself, so that actually put me off. And I’d look at multiple ones, of the typical ones, because I just wanted a standard Chicago deep dish pizza and I’ve given up on that plan. And thought, I’ll go get something else. And I look at restaurant website all the time, I was actually, going through the thought process of what it was that I wanted. This is where the descriptions of the menus is most important, and understanding your customers because of the fact that none of them were catering for individuals. I decided to skip and get another cuisine.

Now, this is the thing that is completely bizarre about it. I was walking probably a couple of blocks from the hotel, still hadn’t found anything it was about 9:30 on a Saturday night. There were a few places that were already closed. I started to get a little bit worried and I see a guy who is eating pizza, and it’s in a pizza box and it’s a very small pizza box, I was thinking, wow that’s individual-sized. Now, the great thing is, he didn’t have a generic pizza box, it had the name of the pizza restaurant it’s Giordano’s and I thought, that’s it I’m going there.

I Had to look on Google maps and made this way–Bang! I mean, I find it really interesting that I’m not sure if the others were catering for single people, single diners. Maybe they were, maybe they weren’t–but no one clearly articulated that they were. So, it’s just for actually being able to see the end product and most particularly the size of it. I knew exactly what it was, what I want in the end. And I went there. I ended up not having a deep-dish pizza. They had an Italian beef, kind of like a pie which was really quite epic and really yummy. And I thought, wow, why they don’t have this in Australia. This is the kind of thing that American cuisine’s really quite popular at the moment in Australia. This kind of pizzas, no one is doing them. Now, the other thing I thought was quite interesting about this was we have a lot of issues with Domino’s. You know, they’ll do a pizza pick up for $4.95. Now, their whole business is systematized, very heavily because it’s a lot of franchise. One of the things they don’t do is sit on the menu. “It’s going to take 20 minutes for our team of artisans to produce this.” And I thought, wow, that would be really interesting if you produce this instead of “It’s going to take 20 minutes.” Better be actually quite difficult for Domino’s to replicate that because of the fact that everything else is done on a different timeline.

Might be product that would actually get around that dominance and it was really nice, I quite liked it. The interesting thing was, what’s the best part or better parts of crusts they had to heaps there, crust there. So, a really good product. That’s a long way of getting to the point of the people that you meet. So I was actually, sitting there eating my pizza, and I was listening to the guys next to me and one of them runs a startup that gets customers’ feedback for restaurants and the other guy was a CFO (chief financial officer) for a company that owns two fairly large-sized chains. So, we got talking about the financial metrics, trends within the restaurant industry and it was really interesting because you don’t normally get to speak to people like that because we talked about one of the big trends we have GrubHub, which is taking all of this margin from restaurants and how it’s economically unsustainable.

One of the things that we were talking about was, so many restaurants and I know, you know, because our team enter a lot of restaurants menus, so many restaurants will have the exactly same take away menu as the dine in menu. There’s no difference in price and there is no difference in the product that they’ve got. Which is really interesting because some products don’t travel well. And I know that this is one of the things that Uber Eats does is that they’ll actually sit down and work with the restaurants on the menu. But too many people aren’t thinking, “Do those guys  who are still doing delivery themselves none of them are actually thinking about the product that they’re shipping?” See, you’ve got some products like a soup which travels really, really well. As long as it’s locked down and as long as it’s not going to explode everywhere. A soup is a soup, it’s not going to make really that much difference.

You’ve got other products, however, which travel remarkably poorly. This is one of the things that restaurants aren’t thinking about: is how do they either cut the menu down–that they’re going to do deliver the things that deliver well or how do they start actually doing some menu engineering, so that they can change their menu for delivery so that it is more robust when it is delivered. So that’s one of the little things that you can think about.

I actually had a check to the guys from GrubHub and they said that they are charging between 15 and 25 percent. If the restaurants doing delivery, and if GrubHub is doing delivery, I think there are 75 cities now where they are doing delivery. They’re charging 25 to 35 percent. I reckon the 25 percent is actually too bad. If Grub Hub’s doing a delivery, 35 percent–that’s starting to get quite troublesome. I couldn’t believe that they’re charging 25 percent from the restaurants doing the delivery. That is madness, absolutely madness! And of course they confirm the fact that, it was interesting the guy said it’s in our [GrubHub-restaurant] agreement with our customers that we can’t give their contact details to the restaurants. And I thought, that summed up so much about their business strategy that they talked about their customers–not the restaurant’s customers. It seems kind of trivial that you’d be able to give the email address from a restaurant that you’ve ordered that they view them. As GrubHub views the person who has ordered as their customer, not the restaurants.  And that’s what cause all of the issues.

Comparing notes with other Restaurant owners

We will continue on. I’m talking about this, let’s see if I was really interesting to get that perspective. He goes and reviews his supply contracts on a weekly basis to make sure that they’re getting the best deal on all of the things that they’re doing because some of the prices, particularly things like seafood and meat can fluctuate quite a bit. They need to be reviewing their margins. This is one of those things that, I think, far too many small restaurants do on less than an annual basis which is very, very scary enough. I had multiple conversations with restaurants where they’ll say, “We went to our accountant and we found out that we weren’t making any money.”

Although, we have to find out how much money you’re losing–you should know that. You should know on a weekly basis. When you go to the accountant and he tells you how things are, that’s all in the past and there’s nothing, not one thing that you can do to influence that. You need to be looking at it and getting an understanding of what the numbers are and then moving forward with it. It was interesting insight, some of the financial systems that some of the restaurants, the big restaurants are using that small restaurants need to be doing.

There are quite a few businesses out there with coaching programs, approach the guys from www.barandrestaurantcoach.com. They very strong programs to help restaurants and bars to be able to systematize, stabilize, and scale their businesses. That’s their little catchphrase. And I thought, wow that’s certainly a lot of demand for that because people are just really struggling with the systematization. This is one of the areas that were going to be doing a lot more of work on. The podcast on, “How do you systematise the processes around your financials and making sure that you have got them under control. You know what they mean and that you’re able then to scale the processes that you’re doing.

It’s interesting, we actually ran a little marketing workshop. It was a bit of an experiment, we had about 10 restaurants come into our office. I just gave a two-hour presentation on, it actually went on close to three hours actually because we had a lot of discussion that was one of the thing, I thought was really interesting, I think, it’s probably some work that can be done in that area, what is the mechanism for restaurant owner to get together.

It’s really interesting people came in and so, they were mingling around the food before we actually started and everyone, within about two or three minutes, we’re discussing their restaurants quite really avidly and sharing fairly the secret kind of information, things like percentage of revenue for wages, rent, how are they going. It’s was interesting because the rule, relatively close to us. Some had come from the other side of the city. But they actually knew each other’s restaurants and even then, were still prepared to share some of their KPIs. This is one of the thing that I think would create a lot of value for restaurants.

Talking to other restaurants and just going through, everyone’s got the same problems. That’s the thing that I find amazing, everyone’s got the same problems. Yet, there’s very little talking and a lot of restaurants owners don’t talk to other restaurant owners because they’re worried about, they view them as competition which I think it’s actually really quite crazy. Everyone’s got the same problems. Who’s got the best solutions because the interesting thing is that the solution that you’ve got in HR might be better than everyone else’s. Their solutions in marketing or costs control might be better than yours, a little bit of sharing can go really a long way.

Telling your restaurant’s food story through your menu

Some of the product that we saw, firstly, there was a huge amount of food and I think the thing that I find really interesting about this. And I’ put up a picture on Facebook yesterday of some alligator sausages. Now I’m not from around these parts and say alligator is novel to me. If I saw that on a menu in a dish that was halfway acceptable to what it was I wanted to eat at that time, I’d probably eat it.

To me that’s exciting. I really get to have alligator. You don’t have to be overly creative to tell a story about alligator. Alligator burgers, alligator sausages, whatever it is. I think that that’s a really good example of the story of the product that you have on the menu because a lot of times it’ll be fish and chips or what kind of fish is it ? How have you prepared it ? What is it that you’ve done that’s different? It’s interesting because I’m reading “Charles Spencer’s” book at the moment. He talked about Patagonian toothfish now, in the 70’s. Someone came up with the idea of calling it Chilean Sea Bass. Because Chilean sea bass was viewed as a higher premium product than Patagonian toothfish. It was interesting, you talked about the people that you meet

There was a guy from the Falklands Islands, they’re selling Patagonian toothfish now. What he was saying is that there is a difference between Chilean sea bass. I went up to him and, ahh, I thought I’d be clever, and say what’s the difference between a Chilean sea bass and a Patagonian toothfish? Knowing full well the answer and I said aren’t they the same fish? They said, yes, but Chilean Sea bass comes from a lot shallower waters and by shallower we’re talking 300 meters, and it’s caught in nets so they tend to be a little bit smaller.

Patagonian toothfish can live, or Chilean sea bass, can live up to 50 years old and the big ones can be a 100 kilos–that’s a big fish. These are caught long line and they are caught from two kilometers down. And I think the water is also bit more subtle, bit more closer towards Antarctica. So, they have a higher fat content. The walls exactly the same animal, the fish tastes quite a bit different. And so now, all of a sudden, you can start to, like that is a product that I would have thought  would sell quite well on the menu.

The menu, test and adjust put it on the menu, put description in so that we would have a Patagonian toothfish. This Patagonian toothfish was captured from 2,000 meters down close to the Antarctic shelf. Because of that it has a high oil content, and very healthy for you and blah, blah, blah, blah, etc. and it’s caught by John from the Falklands islands. That’s sounds exciting, that’s sounds interesting, that’s the kind of thing that I think would try that out. And do you risk proposition what does it taste like? It tastes a bit like salmon or tastes a little bit like probably close to salmon.

How that is compared in regard to that, this was a theme that was replicated time and time and time again. There we’re guys from Pepsi and Coke, they were quite happy to tell you about ways that you could increase the volumes that you are selling, because that is in their best interest. But how many people sat down with them and spent 15 minutes because you got the smart guys there? These guys sold a lot of Coke, a lot of Pepsi in their time. How many restaurants sat down and asked, What I can do? What is the best way to increase my volumes.? It’s high margin product, I would have thought, you’ve got this really smart guy to be able to come up with those answers on how to do that.

How about telling your ingredients’ story in your restaurant story?

Meat, there are a lot of meat producers a lot of the state agricultural boards were represented and they have mini stands and each one had product from the area, whether be meat, cheese, vegetables as well. These are the kind of thing that you can put. If it is a state that’s got a reputation of being clean, we’ve got organically grown food from blah, blah–we’ve got this. Tell that story, have that story come out on the menu because this is one of the big reasons that you can charge. Your higher margin just in that description. Bringing that back to the Chilean sea bass, Charles Spencer found that you can charge more for Chilean sea bass than you could for Patagonian toothfish—the exact same fish. But obviously, now we know that there are some minor differences.

No one actually knew that back in 1977 when this was done. Chilean sea bass, a premium product perceived to be a premium product which can command a higher profit margin. Keep that in mind. This is one of the things. A lot of people I was talking to a couple of restaurant owners. There’s so many people here, we’ve got our suppliers. Really! Do you have the best meat supplier?

Maybe you have someone who spend a lot of time on procurement or you’re probably lazy. Now you know, it’s good to be loyal, but you might just want to check prices just make sure that you’re not getting ripped off. You might just want to see someone has got better story.

You might want to have a story with the producer and find out that they’ve got a great story and go back to your producer–so what’s your story? Am I doing the best that I can do to tell your story because maybe I’m not. Maybe I don’t even know it, maybe we’ve been buying meat from you for 20 years and we’ve forgotten the story and you don’t bother telling us.

We’ve been buying the meat 20 years that could be margin in the story. I think far too many people miss that, and as a consequence, they did not miss the margin which is sad. Although, some of the products that we saw there was lots of poor systems, there always was, a lot of online ordering system.

Once again, some of them keep emailing and some of them share them with the restaurants. Some of them are quite expensive. Nearly all of them were charging. It’s sort of beggar’s belief that Grubhub and the other ordering companies still got a lot of market when there’s a lot of alternatives out there that are sharing the email with the restaurant and then of course, this obviously, the free restaurant online ordering system which had another, I had a brief look at sales data today.

It is a Sunday night here, Monday afternoon. But we have a data email every Monday. It looked like it was another record week for us, which is exciting. The greatest continuing I thought, that was interesting. One of the big trends, which is fairly new, really starting to hit its straps in the industry is the internet of things.

So having a check on the guy of Microsoft stand. They got a coffee machine which integrates with the supplier of the coffee machines so you can now get information. How many cups of coffee were done with the coffee machine. When is it going to need service again? When is the door opened? How much milk was gone through it? All of these sort of things, I’m going to make it a lot easier for you to get an understanding of what’s going on in your kitchen.

NRA find: a really cool oven from the future

You’ll be able to have metrics, you’ll be able to track them. Does it correlate with your sales data? That would be interesting because then you’re starting work at: How many coffees had been given away a day? How many coffees are being given away a day? That’s a scary thought, but an item that is typically being a dumb item is now being given some smarts, to be able to say well. Today we’ve made 212 coffees. You then take that and compare with your POS data, or find out that you’ve doing 178. Now, you’re starting to think about, how much, you’ve been thinking that your margin isn’t as good on coffee as it should be. Ha ha! Now maybe we’ve got an idea about why that is .

There was one product there that I thought was really impressive, the Naboo oven. The thing that was impressive about this is that you, over the internet, you load up things like recipes. So you can have the recipes and then you can have a photo of what the dish is meant to look like. I was kind of thinking, you need that on a bloody oven, probably you want to get that information off a tablet or something. But what you can do with that?

The demonstration was they had a series of dishes prepared, ready to go in, and as they were doing the presentation, they started to put them in. What they would do is that they would put the scallops on a tray and then they’d put it in the oven which is being preheated and all they did is grab the menu for the scallops and put it on the second tray.  There’s a little graphical in the face on the front of it.

They just sort of like, with their finger, they just moved that down onto the second tray. And the oven knew that the scallops need 7 minutes and so, a little timer went down, and then 60 seconds later, they put the crock pot here. How long does that take? They just move the recipe down on to that level. They ended with, I think, 6 to 7 dishes in the oven, all with individual times. All being controlled by the oven. And I thought, wow, that’s actually pretty sweet.

Now you got the ability to get better utilization out of your oven. And, I don’t know, I’ve never been in the kitchen. How many times has someone taken out sometimes too early and served it up or too late and burnt it? So it going to save money? Better utilization of the oven and produce a more consistent product for your customers. I thought wow, that’s pretty cool.

All through, an internet-enabled oven which on the face of it—oh, God that’s the last thing we need is another internet enabled device.  Because we all know, the little bit fiasco that came out when the first one was the fridge that was meant to go out to Amazon and buy milk whenever you needed milk. I don’t really think that was right, it wasn’t the right product for this.

Seeing the oven, wow that’s actually pretty cool and I can, you’ll be struggling not be more efficient with the product like that. Getting items out of the kitchen quicker, just think about all the follow-on effects on. I’m just thinking about them now, they had six or seven items in that oven at once. If you’re cooking that, your throughput in the kitchen is going to be faster because you’re not having bottlenecks which is good. The great bit, though, is that you’re going to be decreasing the amount of time that someone’s in the restaurant. So if you want to increase your turns, the number of times that you’ll have someone in that seat each night. This is one of the cool ways of doing that.

NRA Show finds: beer, spirits, and everything in between

I spent probably a couple of hours in the bar show today. I saw some things that stood out. There was a lot of brands. It’s interesting going to the restaurant that I’ve been going to. You look at the beer menu, I wanted to have a couple of beers as well. There were a few places that didn’t have alcohol in there so they got ruled out but with the beers list, and your spirits and the wines. Is there anything in there to make it a little bit unusual? Is there anything in it to make it a little bit of an experience?

Those are the products. And I thought it’s interesting because the summaries, they tend to have more marketing behind beverages. Whether it’s wine, whether it’s spirits or beers. There seems to be a lot of thought that goes in the product. There was one distillery there and their big push was that you can do away with your imported spirits. So they make a gin, they make a vodka, they make a whole heap of spirits. So now, all of your straight spirits, all of the cocktails, you can say that they are made with American spirits.

That is a unique selling point. That’s something that you could say you could have a big American flag across the bar, and saying, “We don’t have any imported spirits here.” Particularly if you’ve got a simple bar, that would be nice; our cocktails are American made. That makes you unique.

There was a lot of people with botanicals. I tried a few things. Some of them were colourful, some of them not so much. There was a chili vodka that was quite nice, well these things are a little bit unusual. The perfect ingredients for signature cocktails, if it looks half good the kind of things you can throw up on Instagram. The kind of thing that you can put on Facebook. The kind of thing that you run a Facebook ad too. All of this sort of things really help you to get that message out and to be little bit unique.

How to sell beer in an ocean of beers

Now a great example of a beer, was a Yeti Imperial stout. This has got a picture of the yeti on it, it’s quite a big beer, I think it’s 9 percent or something. It’s got a picture of a big Yeti on the can. They had a whole marketing campaign behind it. They have stickers that say, “I believe,” with the outline of the Yeti. So, building that little cult following, this is one of the most popular beers. They’re building that popular following around their beer. That’s the beer that you want to have on your beer list.

If you’re only going to have one dark beer, you might run with that one. This is the big one–have a look at this. A well-marketed product, there was plenty of them out there to be able to pursue a wide range of genres and feels for restaurants. It’s a lot easier now rather than just to have your standard beers that you would normally have. This is the opportunity to have some beer that fit entirely with their brand. That’s going to fit in tightly with your brand. I think that’s really important, because that helps you to have a better brand experience.

Overheard in your restaurant: “I’ll have what he’s having!”

If you’re trying to say that you’re completely unique, and then you’ve got Budweiser, that’s not really unique. You’re going to need unique beers. And if you go through the effort of getting the unique beers, I tell you one thing that I thought was really epic, they had beer mugs that was made out of copper. A company called Barbarian Brand. And these looks like there would be drunk by barbarians. And I said to the guy, “If you drank a beer out that you would feel like you’re going to be invading a Scandinavian country.” It’s just huge! And I think, if you went and bought a few of those and people order some sort of beer and you poured it out in that, people would just go, ”Wow!” And I think that you’ve really got a massive opportunity to create the kind of experience. Because this is the thing that you really want. You want it to be carried out to the table and people go, “Wow, what’s that guy having? I’ll have what’s he’s having.”

“I’ll have what he’s having.” This is the visual component of the product that you are generating that is going to increase the check size. You know, so many people don’t think about this stuff, which I find really disappointing. But as soon as I saw that, I think I was more excited in their product than they were. I was like, “Man, this is epic,” because I can see that. And people will be just going to say yes. And it does two things, people will say, “I’ll have what he’s having.” The other component of it is, I’m going to come back to this place because I can drink from a mug like this. This is an epic mug.

They actually have cooking gear, and I asked, “Wow what would you use the cooking gear for?” You have to bring this to the table because it would be a crime  to have such a beautiful copper pan in the kitchen. And they had shot glasses as well and I thought, you know, that’s the perfect opportunity. Someone orders a brand of shots bring it out on these copper things. The big thing was it for me, partly the look, copper on the outside, silver lined on the inside but the feel it was very heavy and it brings me back to the work of Charles Spencer, who does lot of psychological work behind food.

How restaurants up their game by serving up experience

He’s done a bit of work with Heston Blumenthal. I’m plowing through his book at the moment. He talks about flatware and the heavier it is, the more appreciated the meal is. So people rate the meal as being higher in higher quality when it’s the exact same meal, if they’ve used heavier knives and forks. Now that’s got to come across in drinks, because like, I wasn’t even drinking and I was enjoying myself more. This is the kind of psychological play that you can start to be working on to be able to create that better experience and I think it’s interesting.

I talked to some people and say, “How are we going to create a better experience?” How’s that smiling? How about getting your front of house staff to smile? I’ll give you a really good example, and this is the thing that I always say, that I’m sick and tired of saying, “Great restaurants being out-marketed for crappy restaurants.” On the first night here, I’m not going to mention any names, I went to a restaurant that was on my list from last time, to go to they do do quite marketing. They got some big statements there that they make about just how super exciting their restaurant is. And I thought, it’s a typical Chicago kind of place.

It’s my first night here, I’m going to go there and I went in there and what should I order? What’s popular here? “This is our signature dish.” Okay, they hit me with that. Then it came out, I was like, “Wow!” This is presented quite ordinarily and it was okay. We’re not talking about best of anything yet, it was okay. It was good, but it was kind of a letdown.

The thing that experience made even worse is that I spent probably 30, 40 minutes in there and I spent most of the time listening to the staff complaining about other staff members. And watching the food come where I was sitting until food come out and then people would take a chip and then they go on serving it up to someone. Wow, amazing! So when we talk about experience, that’s an experience that I will not go back. I’m pretty comfortable. There are places that I love here and that I haven’t been to because I’m only here for few days. Try to clear why I’m here for six days, I think it is. So, I’m on a tight schedule and there’s lots of places to eat. So, Grand Lux Cafe,

I won’t get to go to Grand Lux Café this time around. I will get to go next time. I love that place, its epic. Everything there is a great experience. The interior is just magnificent and the food is really, really good. A lot of that is the experience. They’ve got the decor, it’s just the place that I went to. If the staff had been better motivated, if they are better trained. It would have been good experience. The food was good, but it was a bit let down. I was expecting a lot more, a lot more exciting than good. I would have been happy with good. Then the whole experience just fell apart. So, get your staff, think about your CRM (customer relationship management) system. What is there from a CRM point of view that you can do to make it a little more unique?

So that’s about it, I think that everyone in a restaurant needs to think about getting out of the restaurant at some stage. Talking to other restaurants owners. Having a look at the produce that they’ve got. Have a look at the things that they got in the kitchen, their processes and their systems, and look at the way you can improve. We’re not looking to improve anything but one percent, it’s the one percent that you’re after. If you can get, go from just your stocks. to a beef, to a certain type of beef that’s a little bit cheaper but that’s got a little bit more interesting story. Can you go from suffering that you’re getting from a mass supplier? Can you get it from the local butcher? Maybe at a better price. What is that you can do to make those little tiny changes that make the restaurant a lot more profitable and successful?

Nostalgia as a restaurant experience

Before we head off today, I want to talk about one experience that I had. The pop-up restaurant, which just popped up last year so it’s a fairly established pop-up. One of this was a pop-up I was in last week, or a month. I think, this is almost coming out for a year and that is, Saved by the Max. So it’s a pop-up based on Saved by the Bell, the diner in the show. I’ve never actually seen the show but I was invited then. I thought, “Oh yeah, its sounds interesting to see the things that they do to make this experience.”

As you walk in these lockers, some of them are opened. There was a mobile phone in there from the 80’s, which is just huge. The thing that was really interesting was, I stood at the front waiting for probably 20 minutes and each group that went by that locker saw the mobile phone took it out and took a photo of it. So, who knows how many of those are going to end up on the social media? I reckon quite a few. because everyone was playing it up,

I’ll put a photo in the notes but this was like a brick, an absolute brick. And people would take a photo, they were hamming it up. One guy did a video, okay it’s me. I have a new iPhone, yeah, super excited. Look, I’m going to send a text. And he was like playing with it like he was sending a text message. People were really getting into the whole experience of the Saved by the Bell TV show. They had some TVs up on the wall which were playing re-runs of it. The whole decor was as close as possible to the replica of Max, the actual diner in the show.

There was graffiti around which all was sort of a show-specific. It was all interesting. People were in the queue, people go like, “Wow!” What’s it going to be like? This is going to be so exciting and they were reminiscing the music was sort of 80’s music. People were excited to be there. And I was pleasantly surprised at how excited people were to be at this pop-up restaurant” The Diner.”

It was a Monday night, it wasn’t full but it was almost full. When we left, there were only a few empty seats. You know the interesting thing? The talk about how excited people are. The things that they’ve done. We haven’t mentioned the food. This was about the experience not about the food. And the food was a lobster roll which is really nice and the dessert was quite nice as well. They had a menu that was based on the character from the show. And they had a cocktail list that was based on the characters from the show.

I had a cocktail, I had a whisky-based cocktail. It was really nice. I was quite happy with it. I get reference from the character but I’ve never seen the show so, some guy named at me but I think that this is the really exciting thing. Now, obviously they had to go and get licensing from the studio that own the rights to Saved by the Bell. What an amazing concept. And the fact that this pop-up has been around for so long. I think you’ll be looking to see more of this kind of stuff because they weren’t selling food, they were selling nostalgia. The experience, it sort of writes in itself.

Restaurant lessons from the NRA Show, Chicago

So have a think of everything that we’ve said if you’ve never been to NRA show. You can’t make it or recommend heading along it’s probably be going to be next year by the time you listen to this in 2018. It’s my mass code of event. There were ones in Australia but just so much small of this. They got education sessions. They got a whole heap of things.

Just for a product and menu engineering point of view, so many things, so many people you can talk to. These are the experts of their product and the knowledge. I had some good interesting conversations with people about the things that they were selling. And you should be out there having those conversation, too. Trying to work out and you can take the best part of what they’re doing and how to make that into. So that you’ve got better parts in your restaurants.

Just remember, as little as one percent. I’m not expecting everyone to come up with a TV show from the 80’s to create an experience around. So, probably I’ll be waiting for the 18th pop-up that would be epic. Probably the door, with the side door to the black van and the red raising struck it the side. Just thinking around and to go spending a fortune on it. But it turns out pretty epic idea.

Look, at all seriousness based on the excitement that was in that room, I think this kind of thing will definitely got legs. Whether it’s a movie or whole heap of things that you can do around this.

That’s about it, I hope you learned something from it. Go to a trade show. I think that’s really important. Get out, start talking to some other restaurant owners and start using the information you get. The new products that you find to start increasing the profitability in your restaurant.

You have an outstanding day. Bye.

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