The Making of a Restaurant

Thursday, May 24, 2001

Today, Bob Dylan turns 60. Countless words have been written about Dylan's legacy, his impact on modern music, the quality of his work, and so on. But not nearly as much attention has been paid toward Bob's influence on the restaurant industry. It is our duty to make up for that loss.

When Luke and I were tossing emails back and forth about starting up this thing, he suggested that we incorporate reverence for Dylan into our menu. Specifically, he said this: "The blueberry pancakes will be named 'Talkin' John Birch Paranoid Blues.' Many of our dishes will be named after Bob Dylan songs." Here are some more ideas:

Bloody Mary On The Tracks

• Every May 24, as part of our rotating appetizer scheme, we'll serve something Dylan-related, like Subterranean Homesick Blueberry Muffins, or Absolutely Sweet & Sour Chicken Satays.

• Our employee handbooks will be titled, "Gotta Serve Somebody."

• If we really wanted to pay him some serious homage, we'd name the whole dang place after him. One possibility is "Mabinogion," the name of a collection of 11th century stories about Welsh mythology. It's there that the name "Dylan" first appears.

• And, of course, Dylan albums will be on a heavy rotation in our stereo system, on May 24 and on every other day.
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Wednesday, May 23, 2001

I mentioned before that our marketing should build off the lessons of Malcolm Gladwell's "The Tipping Point." I just got to where he talks about word-of-mouth marketing. "Think, for a moment, about the last expensive restaurant you went to ... In how many of those cases was your decision ... heavily influenced by the recommendation of a friend?"

How do we facilitate word of mouth?

Here's an idea I've had since the very beginning: With each bill we include an attractive, prepaid postcard. On it we have a template message, something like: "Dear _______. It's been a while since I've written, but I wanted to tell you about this curious restaurant I went to. The decor was very _______ and I like the way the owners have _______. As for the food, the _______ was a little _______, but this was more than made up for by the _______, which was _______. Try it! I'd love to know what you think. Cheers, _______. P.S. The owners tell me that if you present this card, you'll get a 20 percent discount. Neat!"

The idea, of course, is that patrons mail the card to food-loving friends and family. We could pre-print "Chicago, IL" on the address portion to ensure the cards are sent to likely visitors. If it works, customers get to speak their mind, their friends get a coupon, and we get feedback and more customers. Win, win, win.

Word of mouth, however, depends on whose mouths are at work. Gladwell says trends and sensations must appeal to "connectors, mavens and salesmen." I'll speculate more on this once I finish the chapter.
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I watched My Dinner With André last weekend. After silently nodding my head in agreement as I listened to Wally and André discuss the struggles of the modern urban dweller -- necessity to find the spark in life, routine vs. change, interpersonal communication as theatre, etc. -- my mind quickly turned to the more pressing matter of how to cleverly tie the movie into a YAMI for our restaurant.

It's tough, as there's not much in the movie to latch onto besides a bucketful of philosophical ideas. (And the characters themselves, of course.) How's this: We offer a special called "Your Dinner With André." It includes the choice of bramborová polévka or terrine de poisson for an appetizer, a pair of small quails with rice for entree, and an espresso and a shot of amaretto for an after-dinner treat. But here's the kicker: you get to eat all of your food during an impassioned discussion -- about the virtues of electric blankets, Charlton Heston's autobiography, whatever -- with former Chicago Cub and National League MVP André Dawson.

If we can't get Mr. Dawson -- though I'm sure he's got nothing better to do than sit at our restaurant night after night for the purposes of fulfilling a half-witted and barely amusing pun -- we can always try for André Braugher. Sadly, André the Giant is dead.
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Monday, May 21, 2001

Here's a story about Ruth Reichl, whom I blogged earlier. She mentions a place she helped run in the '70s. "The small collective restaurant in Berkeley had neither a single chef nor a single owner. 'We were a collection of overeducated, passionate cooks.'"

I wonder how well this worked, and whether it could work again. Our circle of friends doesn't exactly lack for overeducated, passionate cooks. Get seven people together, let each person take responsibility for one day of the week? Or let one person handle salads, another the seafood, another the wine, and so on?

I have a feeling that too many chefs and too many owners would spoil the soup -- and the flan and the veal and the pasta -- even in Berkeley, even in the '70s, but especially in Chicago and in 200*.
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