The free lunch of the advertising industry

The free lunch of the advertising industry
If you get a free lunch, you'll probably end up with food poisoning.

I know you won’t tell anyone else, and I trust your opinion, so I wanted to run my plans for a new restaurant past you.

The restaurant industry is in a tough place. Barriers to entry are low, competition is pretty intense – and that’s not even including the Georgie Pie relaunch! – and margins are shrinking. I think there’s a deeper problem, though, and it’s around how customers perceive value.

You see, the problem with restaurants I’ve worked in before is that everyone who walks in the place thinks they know all there is to know about food already. Blame MasterChef, or maybe the ghosts of Hudson and Halls, but honestly, the moment the poor waiter hands over the menu it’s like the oral examination at London City and Guilds … are the truffles from a south-facing slope? Can the Beef Wellington play the ukulele? Honestly.

Then there’s the price. You’d think these people didn’t know how a business works. Yes, they probably could get this filet steak or that bottle of wine more cheaply down the road at Countdown, but Countdown doesn’t have to pay waiters, APRA licences for that music they’re not really listening to or Sally Ridge to fashion those gold-sprayed candle holders from little more than macaroni and a used toilet roll.

But I’m ranting, and I didn’t mean to.

I meant to tell you about my restaurant and how it will work.

The first and most important change will be that once my customers are seated, they won’t be given a menu. Instead, there’ll be an empty seat at every table. Once my guests are settled and perhaps have had a drink, that seat will be filled by my head chef, or one of her deputies.

She’ll spend quite a long time at the table, listening to what each diner is looking for from the meal, then discussing the ingredients the kitchen has available that day. Between them, the chef and the diners will agree on the night’s dinner, before the chef returns to the kitchen to work with her team to create it.

Oh, did I mention the payment bit? I’m going to get the guests to pay for the chef’s time and expert advice. I’m thinking two to three hundred dollars a time should do it. We’re also planning a monthly subscription option for guests who dine with us regularly. (It makes sense, since my head chef won’t need to spend quite as much time with regular customers once she gets to know them.)

Then, on the downstream side, I’ll charge less for the meals themselves. Rather than just making money by marking up raw ingredients (and sparking off those endless “I could have got this cheaper at the Four Square” arguments) we’ll be making our money up front by charging for what really differentiates restaurants: the senior staff, and the trusted advice they provide.

Well, that’s as far as I’ve got with my plan so far. There are some details to iron out, like location, décor and suchlike, but nothing we can’t overcome.

Oh – almost forgot! – I have a name for my restaurant, too.

I’m going to call it Strategy.