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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+5 Rank Up Rank Down
Aug 28, 2008
Scott - something I couldnt help but notice on the Dinner menu (Seafood Fettucini...): "If you don't love this dish, your probably flambeed with vodka yourself." Its "you're" not "your". Here's a nice innocent cartoon that explains the difference (sorry if I offend anyone):


The fact that I had the time to go over your entire dinner menu says something about my productivity this morning :-)
Aug 28, 2008
Ooooh... I just HAVE to reply to 'michael vassar', I can't stop myself.

Seriously Michael, if you were rich enough that work wasn't too important any more, would you really focus on something as terribly exciting as a management consulting firm? Wouldn't you want to do something FUN? Running a restaurant is something a lot of people daydream about doing, as it's potentially fun and challenging, and more rewarding than an office job.
I'm sure Stacey's doesn't matter very much to Scott financially speaking, but obviously does matter to him emotionally.
Aug 28, 2008
Hi Scott, I'm impressed with the Networking Lunch concept. Do you mind if I steal it? I'll call it something different, and the business I work for will not be competing in any way with Stacey's (we're in Britain, and it's not a restaurant).

In return, here's a design tip: The Stacey's website is okay, but could do with avoiding the Comic Sans font. This font makes things look cheap. For example, the 'slider menu' on the 'Free Newsletter' page, or much of the website body copy. It makes it look like a greasy spoon cafe (I'm not sure if that's only a British expression, but it means an ultra-cheap nasty cafe where the menu is entirely composed of variations of cholesterol-overloaded fried breakfasts). I'm guessing Comic Sans was chosen to look 'fun', but it's so prevalent, it has bad connotations. (Another example - it looks like a child day care centre's poster)
Aug 28, 2008
To turn a joke serious Scott, given that you are so smart, famous, hard working, capitalized, creative, and focused on money, why aren't you rich (e.g. too wealthy for Stacy's to matter much)? I'm sure its a great restaurant, but I would expect you to do better by starting a public company or management consulting firm or something.
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Aug 28, 2008
Perhaps you should hire a big crane and lift one of your tables 150ft in the air, like this:

That might attract people to you.
Aug 28, 2008
It sounds great... but I don't do California. Maybe you could branch into Chicago?
+4 Rank Up Rank Down
Aug 28, 2008
>>> I thought you might like to know what happens when a cartoonist manages a restaurant.

But, more importantly, what would happen if a restaurant was managed by a group of 500 economists selected to provide a basis for deciding what's best for the resaurant's economy?

Just wondering.

+3 Rank Up Rank Down
Aug 28, 2008
Scott - I really like your ranking idea! The only drawback from a restaurant owner standpoint is that you regularly have to change your menu (drop the low ranking items and introduce new items for customers to rank). Once customers try all the "good stuff" they'll just go to another restaurant. Maybe do this once a month or so. The ranking idea also gives you fodder for a "customer favorites" section on the menu - the long term highest ranking menu items.

Keep up the good work. If I ever get back to the S.F. area I'll definately stop by. It's on my list of things to do before I die at age 47.
Aug 28, 2008
since you're sort of in the bay area (outskirts anyway) you could improve your geek cred by purging your restaurant of all things M$ and tout it:

"we use only certified organic produce/hormone-free meats
this menu is printed on recycled paper and composed with a 100% M$-free tech stack"
Aug 28, 2008
The restaurant I used to work in had Karaoke and card games on Monday nights to bring people in. That worked pretty well. If I was closer I would go to Stacey's, but it's a long drive from D.C. You could also add a pool or foosball table. I pretty much only go to eat where they have one or the other these days.
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