Restaurant Success: What’s Your Secret Ingredient?

31st December 2013
A spice market. Flickr Creative Commons photo by Sara Marlowe http://www.flickr.com/photos/saramarlowe/

Why do people choose your restaurant over somewhere else?

Is it the location, your menu, a special offer… or is it some thing more than that? Consumers have so many choices today and most food is OK – at least edible. What is your restaurant doing to stand out from the crowd?

We all have a family recipe or favorite dish we love. Just thinking about it brings back memories. (Take a minute, yeah that’s it). We crave it. We have an unreasonable desire for it. We remember not only the taste, but also the person or a memory associated with the dish.  My grandmother’s spaghetti always tasted sweeter than other places. She told me her secret ingredient was love. I later found out it was cinnamon, but I still think love made a small difference. Other times it’s an experience or the environment that creates our craving, not the taste; for example, Dodger Dogs or Fenway Franks. Out of context, just a hot dog; but in your mind, it’s a taste of your youth, of summer or the family road trip.

I call these special connections secret ingredients. I don’t necessarily mean 11 herbs & spices, a special marinade or an elixir passed down for generations; although, they all can be. I’m talking about a “thing” that makes you stand out from the crowd. Secret ingredients are memorable, they are unexpected, they are remarkable and they become part of your brand or location. They are the reason people choose you over hundreds of other options.

Secret ingredients aren’t gimmicky. They are not advertising campaigns or Limited Time Offers (LTOs). They are created and embraced by staff and customers. Over time, they become part of DNA of the brand – your restaurant wouldn’t be the same without it. There are many great examples of secret ingredients: a signature sauce, secret dish that isn’t on the menu, singing waiters or a boisterous greeting.

But some secret ingredients are entirely different, but have a charm (and remarkability) of their own. Some things that are negatives to some are secret ingredients to others. It may be that the décor hasn’t changed since the 1950s, it could be an unusual side dish, it may be a policy of no substitutions. Salvatores, a favorite of Livelenz employees, doesn’t allow changes to its pizza toppings. The chef wants the pizza to have a specific taste. If you don’t like an ingredient, order a different pizza. It may seem counter intuitive, but all these secret ingredients make the restaurants remarkable and people go out of their way to choose that restaurant. Having a secret ingredient is the difference of being one of many or one of a kind.

Tell us about your secret ingredient. Or a remarkable secret ingredient you’ve experienced.



Former restaurant operator and technology enthusiast who loves data and seeing what's possible. It's truly amazing how measurement, engagement, and awareness changes a business.

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