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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Sep 2, 2008
Scott, a number of thoughts - first, no fresh news that you think out of the box. I'd love to visit your place, the picture of that seared tuna is enough to make me want to fly out just for lunch.

It seems to be a bad time for most businesses, not just restaurants. Airlines certainly aren't hiring, the real estate market - at least for realtors - is in the toilet, and most corporations continue to try to find ways of !$%*!$%* the people who keep them in business - their employees and their customers. So it's most refreshing when someone walks the walk in terms of creating a business where everyone wins, instead of just talking a good story.

On your photo gallery for Stacey's at Waterford, images 8, 11 and 12 have not been properly scaled, they are huge - which although interesting in some way, tends to detract from the browsing experience. Perhaps it's on purpose, but I thought I'd mention it in case someone cared.

Good luck, you certainly deserve your enterprises to succeed. If ever I'm out your way, you can be sure I'll come by for some of that tuna...
Sep 2, 2008
Your new ideas are very creative, Scott. I am sure your business will just keep getting better!

Anyway, in my country there is this cafe franchise that stocks up a wide variety of board games/card games in all its branches, with assistants to teach you how to play different games. Customers just stream in and spend hours sitting down and having fun. There was once when I even spent 10 hours with my friends there! We ended up being the Power Gamers of the month, and we got to pick a free gift. Business is remarkably good at all its branches.

The Networking Lunch and the iPod DJ concepts are brilliant - I'd certainly go for that if not for the fact that I'd have to travel 20 hours on a plane.
Sep 1, 2008
I went to your restaurant all the way from San Jose only to find it closed on Labour day. Restaurants shouldn't be closed on labour day dude...

Had a great meal at Little MadFish instead. At least they ARE open.
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Sep 1, 2008
Scott... I just took a look at the Waterford location menu - DON'T LET THEM USE COMIC SANS! UGH UGH UGH. Nothing says, "RANK AMATEUR" like Comic Sans. It is so bad that there is a web site devoted to its eradication: www.bancomicsans.com.

I could forgive my grandma for opening her copy of Microsoft Works and using it on a birthday card, but that's it. Well, I'd let your grandma slide on it too.

Aug 30, 2008
While the whole idea makes me cringe (very introverted), the networking lunch idea is brilliant.
Aug 30, 2008
Extra credit idea: Topless Tuesdays.
Aug 30, 2008
ps Dont tell people when you are around the bar! it will get weird.
pps also liked the witty little comments on the menu too made me quietly chuckle

Aug 30, 2008

You said "What have I missed?" wellll I would say "appearance on Sat Nav". While passing through the area on holiday from the UK (which was the best holiday I have had so far!) I was aiming for your restaurant in Dublin, the problem is although I had an area code, I seemed to forget getting the actual address (ok dumb on my part).
Anyway the Sat Nav took us to the zip code area which was some random residential area. Anyway so we looked for "Local Attractions etc.." and found your Pleasantown address and decided to go safe and go for that one (since its our first time in the US! and we were going to Yosemite).

Anyway so in a few years I am sure it will be on all Sat Navs! So that should help!

Also I really only came to your restaurant (from the UK) to get me a signed Dilbert doll, the Menu was a bonus and I loved the deep fried octopi things and my wife liked your pasta salad! The Dilbert presence was minimal and I figured it might have been you and your wife drawn on the wall but wasn't too sure! (well fairly). The bread with garlic butter was awesome though and the service very good! As it happend you ran out of the little dilberts so I had to get the larger one!

Anyway I said that to say this! This was one restaurant in a large row of restaurants. Whats your unique selling point? whats your unique draw? Well the menu is one thing but none of the other restaurants are owned (part or otherwise) by yourself. so I think you should dilbertize it! That is your unique selling point. People will come just because of dilbert and perhaps not so much the food. But there is nothing wrong with that!!! Its a business for making money and not a hobby to lure people by the quality of the food like some kind of restaurant pseudonym so you can get famous all over again like Richard Bachmann. (Stephen King).

I am from the UK, and recently had the best holiday of my life in California!
Aug 30, 2008
On the Stacey's Waterfront site, there's a Photo Gallery. One of the shots is of this really nice tomato and leafy dish. However, it's sitting on an ugly, dirty-looking metal countertop.

You may not want that as a photo of where the food is being prepared. ;)
Aug 30, 2008
If I may revel in pedantry for a moment,

"We can even run an embarrassing loop of old photos on our big screen TV".

I'm figuring it's the photos that are embarassing rather than the way you display them, but what i'm really interested in is whether so many pedants have contacted you about this that you've binned the lot, or whether none of your readers picked up on it (or felt the need to bring it up). I'm guessing it's the former....

Aug 30, 2008
Here's the best advice you could get: Make sure the chef can do a good job with every item on the menu. I hate to see a 20 page menu because I know there must be some items that won't be very good.
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Aug 29, 2008
Very innovative....truely enterprising.
Aug 29, 2008
You could borrow something from the bookstores and do a "What we're eating" section that lists people that works there's favorite foods. People would probably be especially interested in knowing what you would order, Scott. Though based on your vegetarian burrito product, Dilberito, not me ;P
Aug 29, 2008
Just saw the comment on Free Wi-Fi - okay, I'm hooked. When I get my iPod Touch soon, I'll be roaming through there again. :-)

Aug 29, 2008
We'll have to wander through there sometime... but I know something that would get more people going to Stacy's - if you got the word out when you'd be hanging around the bar. It would pack me in and some hungry friends, too!

I love Stacy's and recommend it to anyone in the neighborhood!

Aug 29, 2008
WIFI- Free WIFI. Not that crap that takes over Iphone or Web Browser with a Pay by Use Homepage before you surf. Free Internet keeps me coming back to places like Panera.
NTN Trivia is cool and you probably missed the Fantasy Football Draft Party Bus- but they are finishing up before the 3rd if you hurry.

Hope these garner you some cash.

[We do have free WiFi now. I forgot to mention that. -- Scott]
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Aug 29, 2008
The Networking Lunch is an insanely good idea. I'd go for that only I am in the wrong country. Great way to meet new people, especially if you've just moved to the area.
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Aug 28, 2008
A rating system for meals is good, but have you ever considered collaborative filtering? Theory goes that people who like some of the things that I like will like other things that I like. I'm a vegetarian, so it's useless to me to see that the steak is the top pick. I also don't like hot, spicy food, but others love it. For things where personal taste plays a big part, a simple rating system doesn't do.
I would like to go to your restaurant and say, "I like the vegetarian pasta, and I like the egg-plant burger", and be told "other people who liked those dishes liked this dish. Maybe you should try this?"
Aug 28, 2008
I'm from Missouri, but I happen to be in Freemont, CA this week for training. So, this morning when I read your blog, I was reminded that your restaurants were near by and decided to go check one out--especially some of your new ideas. I really, really wanted to see the menu ranking system. Unfortunately, I didn't read closely enough. I went to Stacey's Cafe, where these changes are not in place.

Fear not, though. Stacey's Cafe was insanely good! I knew that I was in good hands when the bread and roasted garlic arrived at my table. Ohhh--my! Then, my gorgonzola and walnut ravioli came out. I've never had anything quite like it. Any chance you want to post the recipe? :) I can't fly out here just any time, you know!

I only have one tiny complaint. It's a pet peeve of mine. There was a grease stain on my menu. While the restaurant, the staff, and the open kitchen all appeared to be impeccably clean, the dirty menu undid all of that a bit. Don't get me wrong, I obviously stayed and thoroughly enjoyed my meal! It's just a simple thing, and I wanted to share.

Thanks for an awesome dinner experience, and I'll be waiting for that recipe. Or alternatively, a large upright freezer full of portioned ravioli along with preparation instructions.
Aug 28, 2008
If an MBA actually makes it easier / more likely for a person to get ideas like these, SIGN ME UP!
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