As most of you know, I own and manage a restaurant called Stacey's at Waterford, in Dublin, California.


This is a particularly bad time to be in the restaurant business. So we're always looking for clever ways to compete against the big chain restaurants. Recently I came up with an idea to improve how our customers enjoyed our food at lunch, on average, without changing any of these things that were already excellent, such as...

  • food
  • presentation
  • prices
  • selection
  • service
  • ambiance

Can you figure out what I changed? What else is left?

I borrowed a trick from the Internet. I love sites such as Digg.com and Reddit.com where users rank their favorite web stories. I rearranged our lunch menu the same way, ranking our dishes by popularity and calling out the ranking with the menu format.

There are several ways this improves the experience of diners. Most people easily narrow down their choices to two or three on the menu. The ranking will nudge them toward the higher ranked items, which are indeed the tastiest, so more people will choose our best dishes, on average. Servers already perform this function, but only when asked.

There's often a discrepancy between how good something tastes and how well you can describe it in words. The dishes that look a bit scary in print are often the most delicious if you can get someone to try them. The ranking should help get past that.

Some people hate making decisions. The ranking will help there too. Just order whatever is on the top of the list, so long as it isn't objectionable for some specific reason.

I also started Game Night every Monday. That's the slowest night for most restaurants, so we have plenty of table space. On Monday you can bring a board game, or borrow one of ours, and play at your table. Stay as long as you want. It's especially good if you have kids with you and want to keep them amused. On the big screen TV at the bar we run a loop of trivia questions so the bar patrons can compete if they like. That concept has been working. Business is up on Mondays.

We also started a Networking Lunch concept. You can sign up on our web site to have lunch with five randomly selected strangers. The web site takes your available times and matches you when there are enough people for your table. You automatically get an e-mail with the invitation and an option to decline. It sounds crazy, but you'd be surprised how many people sign up to have lunch with strangers. Some people do it to increase business contacts. Some people just like meeting new folks in a relaxed way that has no expectations.

If you are a real estate broker, or interior designer, or own a spa, the more people you know personally, the better your odds of getting referrals. By the end of lunch, you know five new people.


We also have an iPod DJ system. For groups that want an instant party, we can provide food, a dance floor, and a sound system. All they need to bring is an iPod with their own dance music mix (or use ours) and it's an instant party in our private banquet room or on the main floor. We can even run an embarrassing loop of old photos on our big screen TV that has a laptop connected.

Those are a few of our new ideas. I thought you might like to know what happens when a cartoonist manages a restaurant.

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Aug 28, 2008
How many people try the Networking Lunch in order to find dates? I wonder if a different category might be in order - the Singles' Lunch. You'd have to match tables 3 and 3, but otherwise, same concept.

Or might that open a can of worms you don't want to deal with?
Aug 28, 2008
Looks like some great ideas, although it wouldn't affect me much. I tend to always order something in the middle price range on the menu. Doesn't matter how pricey or inexpensive a restaurant is, I'll never get the most expensive item and I'll never get the cheapest. I don't know why - maybe I assume that the cheapest will be the worst and the most expensive will be too disappointing.

I may have a chance to visit in November. My wife and I are visiting the US from Sydney to see my family. We'll be in San Fran for a few days before heading off to sunny, pleasant Detroit. I'll see if I can carjack a ride out to Dublin. Don't suppose you spend a lot of time there, do you? (I won't carjack you. Just would like to say hello).
Aug 28, 2008
I like the menu ranking system, but i keep wondering: If I'm unfamiliar with the menu and I choose one from the top just to be safe, but then I find out I don't like it, that still bumps the item further up in the rankings, because I ordered it. So, basically, if an item is on top, it gets selected more and stays on top, even if it's not a particularly good one. Of course the effect is less extreme if you have many returning customers who already know what tastes best and keep ordering that. But still, is there a way to counter that feedback loop? How does Youtube handle it, for instance?
Aug 28, 2008
Have a look:


It might not be not what you're looking for, but it's definitely something for geeks. :-)
Aug 28, 2008
Did you or Stacey come up with the dress code?...Dress Code

This is California. Anything goes, including shorts, jeans, business casual, and tuxedos. We’d like you to be sporting some sort of footwear, but only for safety reasons. Nudity is illegal but we’ll allow it on a case by case basis. Just ask the hostess for an opinion.....

I laughed my ass off over the nudity part.
Aug 28, 2008
Your ideas are amazing. My favorite is the Networking one. I dream of eating at your restaurant one day.

-M. Tekel
Aug 28, 2008
This is obviously a hobby for you.
If it were a serious business proposition you'd be cashing in on it's USP* and selling grumpy meals and giving away little plastic Wallies & PHBs. Thered be mashups on every table for diners to fill their time while waiting for the food - funniest of the week gets a free Elboniaburger.
Pile 'em high, sell 'em cheap and franchise it.

*USP=Unique selling proposition = The only restaurant (chain) owned by the Dilbert creator.
Aug 28, 2008
All great ideas. I particularly like the networking/lunch with strangers idea.
Aug 28, 2008
So how many people bring in the Dilbert Board Game with them on Game night. Do you also every get people who will play games like Monopoly and Risk for hours on end and have to kick them out at the end of the night or does the staff just join in at the end of their shifts. But I must say, that is a great idea for Monday's and the meal ranking certainly would help me since I always think two things look delicious and I could just choose the higher ranked one.
Aug 28, 2008
Never make waiters tell customers "what the special is." Every time I get this when Im eating out and I ask "whats so special about the special, its already listed in the menu," the answer I always get is "we're just supposed to say it."

I get it. You have 100lb of trout lips in the back and need to move them before they go rancid.
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Aug 28, 2008
RE: the iPod DJ system.

Is it legal to play copyrighted music in a public setting like that? Do you need to join ASCAP or BMI so that royalties get paid?

Maybe you’ve taken care of that already but if not, you should look into it.

Here’s an article about this topic:


Aug 28, 2008
How do you handle the BMI/ASCAP licensing of the music people bring in?

Aug 28, 2008
the menu idea is GENIUS. i wish more restaurants did the same thing. i hope it works out really well for you.
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Aug 28, 2008
The game night is a great idea! But then I'm a guy that likes games. What I don't understand is why the network lunch sounds like fun to me. If I lived int the area, I would definitely try it, even though normally I would avoid having lunch with a bunch of strangers. Perhaps it's the mystique of being matched up by a computer? I'm sure that there's some social psychological principle at work here, but I don't know what it is.
Aug 28, 2008
I would think just the idea of eating at "your pal" Scott Adams' place would be enough to keep people coming back, as long as you pay attention to the fundamentals (which you apparently do). Your being there on a regular basis, and being accessable to your fans seems like the best marketing method. (I do think game night is a great idea, too).

Hopefully, you'll be able to lead kareoke singing before long!
Aug 28, 2008
I recently ate at your restaurant, Scott, and enjoyed it. The mushroom carbonara was delicious. My reasons for not eating there more often? Our economy stinks at the moment and I don't have a job. So I think the goal of your previous post is the best way to improve business: figure out what's wrong with the economy and which politician is most likely to fix it.

The networking lunches sound neat. I've been meeting a lot of people off of the internet lately (not quite the same thing, but similar), and most people are in fact really nice. Maybe it'd be helpful if there were ways to game your table turnout, so you ended up with similar interests and goals. I'm a game geek and would definitely go for game night if I didn't live out on the peninsula.
Aug 28, 2008
I HIGHLY recommend games from:


Might be worth a bit of investment...
Aug 28, 2008
"The dishes that look a bit scary in print are often the most delicious if you can get someone to try them."

In case you're interested, the economist Tyler Cowen has mentioned this here:

and in his book Discover Your Inner Economist.

+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Aug 28, 2008
Hi Scott,

Glad to hear you are doing well. It seems that the hardest working guy in the comic biz has a knack for marketing, either that or you hired a good consultant. This surprises me a bit based on your relatively low opinion of marketing people based on your portrayal of them in various Dilbert strips.

If you are looking to expand your franchise, I have some ideas of places that would work over here on the upper right coast, just outside Boston. Let me know, I can come up with some investment capital.

Aug 28, 2008
Hi Scott,

I've never been to your restaurant, but I took a look at some review sites and it the reviews seem to be hit or miss. Most complaints seem to be service related and some about the inconsistency of the food.

Have you watched Kitchen Nightmares on BBC? I find it fairly interesting. Of course the show is edited like crazy, but it seems to me that when restaurants start concentrating on gimmicks to attract customers they neglect the basics of what makes a good restaurant.

I would be interested in hearing more about how you are approaching this issue. Do you actively ask for feedback from your customers? Would you hire a consultant (gasp) to analyze your business? Do you hire people to eat at your place and report back -- call them "mystery eaters" maybe? (like a mystery shopper in the retail business.)

I might be the only, but I think this is really interesting.

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