You need a signature dish

A restaurant without a signature dish simply blends into the crowd and doesn’t stand out. In fact the same might be said of any kind of business, not just restaurants.

Not long ago, my family and I went out to eat at a Thai restaurant. Thai is my daughter’s favorite so we look for it often.

Like most ethnic restaurants, one Thai place is really not all that much different from another. The same is true of Chinese, Mexican, Ethiopian and even burger joints.

The place we went was nice and the food was very good. However it wasn’t really distinct from any of the other very good Thai food we’ve had. They simply didn’t have a “signature dish”.

After the meal, my wife and I both ordered coffee. I’m not really much of a coffee drinker but I will drink it sometimes just for taste.

The waitress brought our coffee plus the usual little pitcher of cream and container with an array of sweeteners.

I don’t know what made me think of it but I asked her if she could bring me a bit of coconut milk. My wife, who absolutely loves all things tropical, jumped right on that and asked if she could have coconut milk for her coffee too.

Neither of us had ever tried it before but immediately found that good coffee with sweetened coconut milk is exceptionally good. I suspect that even passable coffee could be made better with sweetened coconut milk.

Ever the marketer, I spoke with the restaurant’s owner. I told her of our experiment using coconut milk in our coffee and how terrific it was. Then I suggested that she make it a regular thing. That could be their signature dish.

Anyone who knows anything about Thai food knows that Thai restaurants probably get coconut milk in 55 gallon drums. So for them to serve coconut milk by default when someone orders coffee or tea is no hardship. In fact, it makes perfect sense.

My daughter raised the specter of people with nut allergies but just about every Thai dish is characterized by one or more of just a handful of ingredients: coconut, cashews, peanuts, and lemon grass. I simply can’t imagine that people with nut allergies eat an awful lot of Thai food. Even so, if the restaurant made this their signature dish, they would proclaim and advertise it. At the very least, some mention would be made right on the menu. If someone did have a nut allergy, they could always request regular milk or cream in place of coconut milk.

The real point is that having that signature dish would make them more memorable and bring in repeat customers. And what else is marketing for if not that?

Click any of the icons below to retweet these passages from the above article.

Retweet this passage A restaurant without a signature dish simply blends into the crowd and doesn’t stand out.

Retweet this passage One ethnic restaurant is really not all that much different from another.

 Having a signature dish makes a restaurant more memorable.


The Fat-Free piggy says “Scan this to retweet the quote next to the pink bird above.”

How’s this for an elevator pitch?

I am sometimes asked about my “elevator pitch”.

I’m sure everyone knows what an elevator pitch is but, just in case, it’s your 30 second canned presentation of who you are and what you do. The theory being if you were on an elevator and someone asked you, you could fully answer them before the ride was over.

I have a great deal of disdain for corporate gobbledygook and that’s precisely how it seems to me when people ask about my elevator pitch. However I have to admit the value in being able to concisely communicate who you are and what you have to offer.

When in a group, such as at a conference, as we go around the room introducing ourselves, I always stand. Often I’m the only one who does. I believe in projecting and in how you present yourself and I just feel more powerful and confident when I stand. I project more.

So the first part of my elevator pitch is all body language; I stand. This is especially powerful when everyone else is sitting. Less so at a networking mixer where most of the people are standing at the bar or mingling. I also speak loudly and enunciate clearly. Everyone can easily hear and understand what I am saying.

I avoid buzzwords. Again, I have a disdain for them so I won’t use them.

If I were standing in front of you and giving my elevator pitch right now, it would go something like this:

I am a copywriter and marketer who helps “green” businesses make sales, spread their message and educate customers. In short, I help them make the world a cleaner place.

How’s that for concise and to-the-point?

Chinese-Jewish restaurant sign

The Chinese Restaurant Association of the United States would like to extend our thanks to the Jewish people. We do not completely understand your dietary customs… but we are proud and grateful that your GOD insist you eat our food on Christmas. Happy Holidays!

You’ve got to love this sign.

Yes, it’s obviously hand-made. It has some strange capitalization and punctuation in places. But overall it’s great. Very charming.

This is a good example of targeted niche marketing to a very well-defined group of prospects. It also packs in a lot of subtlety that may not be readily apparent to anyone who is not in their target demographic.

(I know because some of it was lost on me until it was explained to me by one of my dearest Jewish friends.)

For starters, Jews in the US are a bit like rubber ducks in the ocean; they are completely surrounded by non-Jews who control the culture and understand little about their heritage. Jews typically don’t celebrate Christmas in the same way that the rest of us do. Even those with kids and in mixed marriages who may “observe” Christmas, give gifts and put up decorations do so more to fit in than anything else. For reasons of culture and heritage, they try desperately to keep observance of Christmas to a minimum and focus more on Hanukkah (which I know is actually a relatively minor Jewish holiday; Christians in the US have puffed it up to be “Jewish Christmas” but it’s really not.)

On Christmas Day, Jews typically prefer to go out to eat. Being largely run by Buddhists who also don’t celebrate Christmas, Chinese restaurants are usually the only ones open. So over the years it has become a sort of de facto cultural tradition for Jews to go out to a Chinese restaurant on Christmas Day.

It’s also the one day of the year that you may find it impossible to get pork fried rice.

So that’s the first bit of brilliance of this sign: it takes that whole symbiotic cultural history of Chinese and Jews in the United States and pays homage to it in a way that is unlikely to be noticed by many outside of those two groups. This is ultra targeted marketing at its finest.

The second great thing about this sign is that it sells without selling. It’s more like a public service announcement or a heartfelt greeting card than a commercial advertisement. The makers of the sign know that Jews reading it are already predisposed to being customers. Indeed, they may already be regular customers. There is no need to push for the sale. Instead, they simply create an environment where these customers have warm feelings and are inclined to buy.

The sign also throws in a very subtle implication that patronizing their establishment is commanded by God himself. A tricky line to tread but they pulled it off nicely.

Respectful humility is also displayed here. The writers of the sign are saying, “Hey we don’t really get what you Jews believe in but we don’t disrespect you simply because we don’t understand the ways in which your beliefs differ from ours.” In fact, the sign even openly implies a sort of homage.

Will hanging a simple hand-written sign like this one in their front window increase business on Christmas Day? Honestly, I have no idea. (That’s always a key thing with marketing. Anyone who tells you they know how customers will react is probably lying.) I can tell you that I think it will probably get them an extra couple of families. If they had put a sign out on the street where passing traffic could see it, the effect might have been increased many times over.

What about a mass media advertisement such as TV, radio or the newspaper? That’s a tricky one. One the one hand, you reach a lot more people and that certainly has the potential to help a lot. On the other hand, there’s something charming and sincere about the fact that this sign is hand-written. You lose that with mass media.

The only way to know for sure would be to test it and see.


Click any of the icons below to retweet these passages from the above article.

Retweet this passage We are grateful that your God insists you eat our food on Christmas.