We oftentimes depend on the complexity of marketing principles to build our business. These principles have created a new generation of chef’s and restaurateurs who are consumed by innovation and pushing the envelope, simply because they misinterpret the statistical data that is behind what is known as the “customer bell curve”. The concept of the bell curve is built on five categories of customers (applicable to any industry): Innovators, Early Adopters, Early Majority, Late Majority and Laggards or Late Adopters. Statistically, it breaks down like this:
Innovators: 2.5% of the customer base
Early Adopters: 13.5%
Early Majority: 34%
Late Majority: 34%
**from an article by: Morgan Gerard in Idea Couture: “Noodle Play”
Innovators are typically people who jump at the chance to try whatever is new and proclaim: “I was first”. Early Adopters are close behind and believe that their role in life is to define what is fresh and start the next trend. Most businesses would agree that attracting this audience is important if you are interested in creating a “buzz” around your business. Buzz does equate to new customers and many feel that the Early Adopter is the key to getting close to a new audience. Morgan Gerard dispels the belief that Early Adopters are the opinion leaders. He states: “this is only true if the Early and Late Majority actually follow their lead.” This points to the premise of this post.
As a consultant for restaurant operations I am constantly faced with the dilemma of the chef’s need to be creative and “test the waters”, versus the need to create a business model with staying power. Now, I personally love to try new restaurant concepts and unusual dishes. When I travel I tend to seek out those unique experiences and check them off my list. This is the challenge with Early Adopters (I consider myself to be one). Once they have experienced something new the need is to move on to the next breakthrough. Restaurants that have the ability to survive and thrive must appeal to the Early Majority (they don’t usually jump at new things until they are truly proven) and the Late Majority that move to a new concept kicking and screaming. These two categories of consumers represent nearly 70% of the potential customer base. To be successful, long-term, this is where restaurants need to be.
The challenge, of course is getting to that point. Certainly, restaurants need to evolve at some level and try new things, but it is imperative not to stray too much from what works: well prepared food, great flavors, consistent outcomes, attentive service and stellar hospitality.
I just finished filling out the annual ACF/NRA survey of “what’s hot” that will become a benchmark for chefs as they plan the next iteration of menus for their properties. What was interesting is how many niche (what I might consider short-lived) products or preparation concepts were offered as choices. There are restaurants, in large urban markets, that can take on the role of “innovator” and do well for a long time, but they are few and far between. I will leave this role to Grant, Ferran, Rene and Heston. To try and emulate these unique, highly sophisticated concepts, would be dangerous for most restaurants to attempt and likely lead to business failure.
Attention to ingredients, serious cooking, building on great flavors and beautiful presentations with the right amount of friendly service will always trump those restaurant concepts that come and go. If restaurants and chefs used the parallel of investing 2.5% of their menus and time to pushing the envelope and stay focused 97.5% of the time on cooking well, serving well, paying attention to customer needs and building a base of return guests they would have a much better chance of weathering the storm, surviving and thriving for the distant future.
Keep the innovation going, watch what the highly creative few are doing, experiment cautiously with your own operation, integrate ideas when that Early Majority feels compelled to “buy in”, build on constantly improving the great food and consistent overall experience that 70% of consumers are seeking, and enjoy the best of both worlds.
The picture attached is of Duck Confit resting after a few hours in duck fat. Serve this with flageoulet beans, or polenta, sautéed kale and a robust glass of Cabernet Sauvignon or Zinfandel. All the innovation in the world would have a tough time competing with this flavor profile.