Who says you can’t learn anything by just watching Netflix? You can. If you pay attention, that is.
The Netflix series, Chef's Table , is a secret obsession of mine.
The show is about the stories of highly regarded fine dining chefs who take you through their journey by candidly sharing their anguish, failures, creative process, adversity, breakthroughs, desire, resistance, recognition, and perfecting their craft as a chef as well as a business owner by finding their own voices through food.
To me, "Chef's Table" is a series of business case studies. At least that's how I watch the show to seek business insights that I can use for my own business as well as for my clients’ businesses.
Some argue that the show glamorizes the hard business of running restaurants, and it is way over the top.
The show captures real-life stories of running a business in the highly competitive industry that you and I can relate to. Frankly, I think the show should be a little over the top considering what is at stake. It is a high-stake game, and you will know why if you watch it.
Most of the chefs on the series share a few things:
They struggled with their business for 3 to 7 years, average 5 years. Most of them were ridiculed by critics (or people in their neighborhood) in the beginning. All of them believed their expression in food had a place of its own although there were times they seriously doubted.
Sounds tough, isn’t it? You must be wondering why in the world I would suggest that your business offerings should resemble their menus by niching down if it is so difficult. After you are done reading this post, you will have a clear idea of why this is a game changer.
This post is the first of the 3-part series:
Pt. 1: Why this is recommended,
Pt. 2: Process of finding your own niched down offerings.
Pt. 3: De-risking: The secrets behind the fine dining menu strategy.
By the way, I'm not an avid fine-diner. I love food, but I'm not a foodie per se. If anything, I love all kinds of homely, "hole in the wall" joints that serve authentic food more than anything.
So don’t worry, you don’t need to be a foodie to understand this concept. Shall we get started?
How Does a Fine Dining Menu Looks Like?
Let’s take a look at these menus. They are all ranked The World’s Best 50 Restaurants as well as are featured on the “Chef’s Table.”
What do you see? They all say, “Tasting Menu.” It pretty much means “You get what we give you to heighten your dining experience to the pinnacle point.” Each course is set. No swapping, no skipping.
What don’t you see? Names of the dishes with an exception of Osteria Francescana. Even these names do not reveal what they are like. None of them offer any explanations as to what you will eat like, “Spaghetti with Meatballs.”
It gets even more extreme. Eleven Madison and Atelier Crenn among many other fine dining restaurants do not even have a page explaining what their tasting menu is about until you are escorted out to the reservation page.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t find that to be a sign of arrogance. On the contrary, I find that to be a sign of confidence. There is nothing to explain but a few images that convey “what you are about to experience.” Haters can keep on hating; these establishments are not going anywhere any time soon.
6 Reasons Why the Fine Dining Menu Strategy Works the Best for Small Service Businesses
Here are the 6 reasons why your business should take a page out of the fine dining business model. Consider this your “way out” from the endless chasing of prospects & RFP submissions.
It Forces You to Commit to Your Business Vision.
It Shows A Sign of Confidence in What You Offer.
It Allows Prospects to Self-Select & Self-Deselect.
It Avoids Decision Fatigue.
It’s Easier to Forecast Revenues.
It Forces You to Focus on “Overall Experience” You Provide (Not “What” You Provide).
Let’s go over each to gain a deeper understanding as to why these can be beneficial to your business. Some of them may be obvious to you, but I would like you to know how exactly how it works under this strategy.
Reason #1: It Forces You to Commit to Your Business Vision.
As entrepreneurs, we are all capable of offering many different services. What sets successful entrepreneurs apart from the rest, among many other traits, is “the ability to design their businesses to do one thing very, very well with a kind of experience customers cannot get anywhere else.”
Why do many entrepreneurs fail at this? It’s simple. The process of finding THE ONE THING that works requires an enormous amount of discipline.
To be honest, I have put myself through the process for many months, and I am not done. Far from it.
This is a never-ending continuous effort. Occasionally, I feel like bashing my head against the wall as it takes time to validate each experimentation. As these renowned chefs featured on the series do, I go through many failed attempts and continuous tweaking as part of the process.
Love the journey, not the destination.
If you don’t find joy in the process, you are going to be in the world of pain over time having to deal with your stagnated business. Personally, I prefer to suffer from the front-loading work over going through a slow death of a business. How about you?
The reward for opting for this route rather than pursuing to be a “full-service” business is every bit of work you and your team invest in will pay off handsomely over a long-term. It is because you and your team will not be stretched out too thin by providing “various services” to compete with other service providers.
Stripping down your offers will force you to rethink what your business vision, value, expertise, and experience is, and how to best serve your customers. Once decided what that is for your business, you cannot flip-flop.
This high level of commitment can scare any entrepreneurs. When that happens, just remember that, by flip-flopping, you will send mixed signals to your customers. If you can’t commit to what you offer, why should they commit to you?
Reason #2: It Shows A Sign of Confidence in What You Offer.
The main resistance I get from my clients when covering this concept of stripping all down to super-niche their offers is this practice puts them in the place of vulnerability. They feel naked without a long list of offerings.
Intuitively, they feel as if they are not “capable” or “qualified” to play in the market they are in if they don’t push the angle of being a “full-service” agency, company, or firm. This is understandable considering none of us wants to feel like we are inadequate.
Here is the counter-intuitive fact: Customers do not care. Your ego does.
The purpose of a business is ridiculously simple. A business transacts by offering a solution to what customers desire in exchange for payments. Customers would much rather go to a specialist to resolve their issues or to acquire what they want.
Your ego, on the other hand, may nag for the desire to be perceived as a full-on business establishment in front of your competitors’ eyes. So, I want you to take a moment and ask yourself which one you choose.
The beauty of super-simplified, super-niched down offerings is that it shows a sign of confidence. Naturally, in order to accomplish this, it will require you to be bold. If your business promotes confidence, your prospects will feel the same, and they will approach you with confidence. Now, you see this comes in full circle.
“Fortune favors the bold.”
Reason #3: It Allows Prospects to Self-Select & Self-Deselect.
“This is going to turn away so many customers!”
I have heard this from many clients with teary, fearful eyes with shaky voices. They are already on the edge with an overwhelming sense of fear, but I don’t hold back. I respond with full of excitement as I can hardly contain myself,
“I know! Isn’t it great?! That’s exactly what you want!”
Terrible. Yes, I know. Some of them fall apart right there and then. But, I want them to know this is something to be excited about rather than to be fearful of.
To my pure surprise, so many entrepreneurs are tricked up with their own narratives closely tied with “vanity metrics” to make themselves feel better. It simply blows my mind as I would rather know a conservative set of numbers to work with.
Imagine this for a second: What if you get 50 orders a week & turns out 45 of them are crappy orders? Have you ever considered time & labor required to educate these unfit customers or to turn them down?
On the flip side, imagine if you get 8 solid orders a week and 6 of them turn out to be high-quality orders without explanation, without persuasion, without re-education, and you and your team get right to work with them?
Which would you rather pick?
I think you already know the answer.
You might also like: How to Niche Down When You Have So Much to Offer Pt. 2
Reason #4: It Avoids Decision Fatigue.
No one is impressed with “how many different offers you can provide.”
If I may be so bold (…as usual), when I see phrases like, “full-service” or “one-stop shop” from companies with only a few staff on payroll, I take it as the indicator that they have no clue what they are doing with their business. Because I know what they are offering is mediocre quality, all-across-the board services.
There is nothing cool about your offers looking like a diner menu and expecting your business to be profitable. Look, I am not knocking diners. They serve a purpose. However, the model isn't ideal for small businesses.
Tell me you aren't exhausted by just looking at this:
The stark difference between “catch-all” diners and fine dining restaurants is this:
Diners feed people with meals. Fine dining restaurants create memories.
Ultimately, you want your customers to already know what they are getting before they approach you. This is the reason Eleven Madison and Atelier Crenn and the likes don’t dedicate a menu page. They expect you to know what they are about before you go to their website.
On the other hand, if your offerings look like a diner menu, customers would have so many questions. Then they are forced to spend time going through all the wreckage (I mean it), then they are forced to decide which is best for them. At that point, you lose their interest.
It is on you if you design your offers that force your customers think. No one wants to “figure out” anything when they are needing help.
“But, what if they want a one-stop shop?”
A valid question. You have 2 options.
Option 1: Refer to another agency or firm by saying, “I am more than happy to refer to a full-service shop if that is what you need. Remember, though, you will not get a full attention you need in all areas. Let us know if you change your mind.”
Option 2: Offer a “done for you” plan with the price way above the industry standard. Why? You are about to sacrifice your regular offers to take this on. There will be losses you will have to make up for this single offer. So, consider carefully whether that is worth taking on.
Reason #5: It’s Easier to Forecast Revenues.
The restaurants that rank in The World’s Top 50 Restaurants as well as the ones featured on “Chef’s Table” are already booked up anywhere between a year to two in advance. They are in demand.
What this does is this: It allows them to do the math so much easier. They know how many seats are available. They have enough data to foresee how many covers per night they need to serve. They have, at max, 3 different prices. 3, not 25. They can easily foresee what their revenue looks like for the entire year.
What’s not to love about this?!
Now, this is going to be difficult for service businesses to pull off. What is completely doable, however, is to be booked up for the next 6 months up to 10 months.
You get to easily figure out how many projects you need per month, per quarter, per year, etc. It is also easy to let your prospects know how long they may have to wait without making up a number out of thin air.
This, ultimately, allows you to break the feast & famine cycle. Once again, I ask you, “What’s not to love about this?!”
Reason #6: It Forces You to Focus on “Overall Experience” Your Business Provides (Not “What” You Provide).
Simply put: Less offers you need to manage, more time to focus on quality.
I have shared how “a slight edge” in customer experience can elevate your business in my gust post on TEDx Lincoln Square.
Subtle gestures that make your core offerings extra special calls for your close attention to customers. How in the world you would do this when you handle “fully customized, case by case a.k.a. RFP” projects? You can’t. Your team can’t, either. It’s just not realistic.
Let’s take a look at the Alinea’s menu once again. How does it describe what they offer? Do they offer meals? No. They do NOT offer meals. They offer an “experience” which will lead to unforgettable memories.
How about D.O.M.’s? The same.
Offering meals is what I call, a “commoditized offer.” Small businesses do not have a chance of survival if they only offer commoditized services. More will be covered on this topic in the Pt. 2 of this post.
As a small business operator, you are already out of the (low cost) volume game. This is the game you don’t have the bandwidth to play. But, you can, fair and square, compete with quality and/or convenience. Allowing yourself a room to work on your QC (quality control) is the make-or-break pressure point in your business.
As a result, you will be rewarded by not having to do much lead generation/business development tasks because you will likely retain your existing customers and/or get more referrals from them.
Now What? Glad You Asked.
You now know the benefits of incorporating the fine dining menu strategy in your business. The next post will cover how you can go about the process of niching down your offerings to be more like a fine dining menu.
I want to emphasize the part, “more like a fine dining menu,” because yours will not look exactly like the example menus you saw in this post, and I will go over the reasons why as well.
Moreover, there is no single step to get your offerings to look like a fine dining menu and expect this new endeavor to generate immediate revenue growth. There are a few iterations which will take place in order to get there. At each stage, a new communication strategy needs to be formed to support your new effort.
Sounds like a lot to do, I know. But, I hope you are pumped for giving this a try. See you on the next post!