There is undeniably no shortage of food shows on cable. If you want to see how much drama can be created over a plank of slightly overcooked chicken, just flip on Chopped, Iron Chef, or anything starring Gordon Ramsay.
Every time you turn around, a new show pops up, which is strikingly similar to the last one you saw, but THIS time, the chefs get to sabotage their opponents by making them saute from a ball pit or giving them Lilliputian-sized utensils to cut their meat with! OK, if you haven't seen Cutthroat Kitchen--you have some MAJOR catching up to do.
Americans love eating out, but we also crave food shows because the restaurant industry is utterly fascinating. But as many of our favorite chef shows eventually point out, the success of a restaurant startup takes a lot more than having a well-seasoned steak or a perfectly poached egg. Much of it is about dining experience as a whole. Who cares how good the food is if the service is bad and the environment is uncomfortable? That same principle can be applied to most businesses.
No one knows this more keenly than Sammy Musovic, the owner of Sojourn in New York City. This long-time restaurant pro runs his business with one top priority: to foster a community atmosphere.
Sojourn has become a hotspot in its Upper East Side neighborhood, winning more loyal fans each week because of the personalized experiences they receive. As one of his regular patrons put it, "We don't go to a restaurant just to eat--we go to be entertained."
Because of Sojourn's speedy success, Sammy was able to open two more restaurants in Manhattan--Vero, a lovely wine and tapas-type bistro, and Selena Rosa, simply Mexican with a twist and monster margaritas. He credits his success to these three things:
Interacting with Customers
Who doesn't like feeling like their opinion really matters? When you feel like you've helped create something, you're more emotionally invested in it.
Sammy talks to his customers all the time--asking them what they like and don't like about the menu. Then he adjusts the offerings accordingly. If the wine distributor comes in with a new bottle and his customers are around, he'll pour them a free glass and ask their opinion. If they like it, he'll order it. Because of this personal interaction, the regulars feel like they're part of the success of the restaurant.
Hiring a Fantastic Staff and Investing in Them
Some of the brightest business minds in the world will tell you that the key to success is hiring the best people, paying them well, and then getting out of their way to let them work their magic.
Sammy hires dynamic, charismatic people for his staff and supports their goals and ambitions. He allows them to wear whatever they want while they're on the job, which allows their personalities to shine--promoting the fun, casual atmosphere. Because of his devotion to his staff, some of whom are his children, the feeling in the restaurant is relaxed and happy. You want to build a comfortable environment, so that your customers want to stay for dessert!
Giving Customers a Bang for Their Buck
Have you ever been to an upscale restaurant that charges an arm and leaves you totally starving (so much so that you inevitably wind up at Taco Bell)?
Sammy believes in giving the customers value. Yes, the restaurant is in a neighborhood full of people who can afford to eat out every night--but he wants customers to leave feeling good that they were given so much for a good price. It lends to the overall experience and it's another reason people keep coming back.
To date, Sammy has never done any paid marketing--just old-school word of mouth. Because of the passion his regulars have about the restaurant, they have become his marketers and publicists--solidifying the point that when you create an unforgettable experience, people WILL talk.