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The Power of Community, a tale of two restaurants

Posted Dec 20 2008 6:38pm

While I was in San Francisco last week I had the opportunity to visit two very well known raw/live food restaurants.

Restaurant 1 has fantastic food. Not just good food, but great food. Very gourmet and lot of attention to detail, especially when it came to their desserts.

Restaurant 2 had good food overall, and a few winners. The food didn't nearly have the "Wow!" factor of Restaurant 1, but it was still tasty and wholesome.

If it came down to just the quality of food, Restaurant 1 would have been my favorite and the favorite of the local community. But of course it's never just about the food. It's about the experience.

The Restaurant 2 Experience

When you dine at Restaurant 2 you feel like you're at a friend's house. When you walk in the door the entire staff, not just the host, welcomes you with a genuine "Hello and Welcome!"

There is nothing fancy about the interior design, but what is on the wall is there with purpose. Positive sayings, murals of people enjoying life, affirmations in the bathroom. Even if the vibe is "not your thing" it's clear that this place stands for something bold.

Sit down and you're immediately welcomed to the tribe with a "Question of the Day." Sample questions include, "What do you love about yourself" and "What do you honor about the people that you're sitting with?" Sure some people might find it corny, but again, you're reminded that this restaurant stands for something bold. This restaurant is clearly not vanilla flavored ice cream, it is more like a mint-cacao-swirl. Bold!

Take a look at your menu and you'll notice that each dish has two names. A divine name and a practical name. The divine name is a name given to each dish that allows all patrons an opportunity to participate and go deeper into the energy of the restaurant. For example, want to order the Mushroom Bruschetta? Just tell your waiter that you'd like the "I Am Present". Notice how she'll repeat, "Yes, you are present" when writing down your order. It's all part of the ritual of Restaurant 2.

Restaurant 2 also knows that it's not just about the dinning experience. They regularly have events, even though they don't make much of a profit on them. They invest in the personal development of their staff by having an opportunity each morning to host a "clearing" - a specific time for all staff members to let go of anything that's on their mind, be it personal or business related. Restaurant 2 also openly hosts opportunities for other in the industry to learn about their best practices and what makes them successful.

One of the most powerful things that Restaurant 2 does is introduce their patrons to one another. In addition to encouraging shared seating, the owners and staff quite regularly make off-the-cuff introductions, taking an opportunity to be especially welcoming to people dinning by themselves. This isn't a one time thing, this is part of their business's culture.

While Restaurant 1 has a hard time filling up on a Friday night, Restaurant 2 is busy on a Tuesday night. While Restaurant 1 has a tough time with one restaurant, Restaurant 2 is successfully managing five locations with a central kitchen.

What could Restaurant 1 learn from Restaurant 2?

Putting positive messages on the wall, having funny names for your dishes and hosting a few events isn't the point. Those are all tactics. Great things, but meaningless without a bigger strategy and a larger driving force.

The true lesson in the success of Restaurant 2 is their investment in Community.

Restaurant 2 has unapologetically turned what it stands for into a destination, an experience, a movement, a tribe, a living and breathing community. They aren't well known because of some press write up, feature on national news program, or a big marketing campaign. They are known because everyday one more enthusiastic patron invites their friends to be part of this wonderful experience and expand the community further.

Restaurant 1 is always clean, the interior design is nice, the staff is friendly and the food, as mentioned above, is fantastic. Restaurant 1 is doing everything correctly, everything by the book. But after you are done eating the experience is over. Eating at Restaurant 2 is just part of the experience.

When you genuinely care, and you show it, your community showers you with devotion. When Restaurant 2 wanted to expand their operations they sold pre-paid $1000 gift cards that contained $1250 in food vouchers to tons of their patrons to raise financing. Sure many people bought the cards just for the savings, but I have a feeling the majority of buyers wanted to be part of the bigger picture. An investment in the restaurant was an investment in their own community.

You may not run a restaurant, but I have a feeling that this lesson of community is universally applicable to all businesses. Especially businesses that work in the holistic health space. I've said this before and I still stand by it: the number one reason why people have a hard time staying healthy is community support.

You might sell fantastic products to help people get healthy, but what are you doing to regularly support them?


If you are serious about building and leading a community, I'd highly recommend listening to this free download of Tribes by Seth Godin.

If you're an individual who's wondering how community impacts your day to day life, I'd highly recommend reading Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi.

Both of these books and their authors have made a hunge impact in my life and the business operations of We Like It Raw. Hope you enjoy them too!

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