Lessons in specialisation from the holiday restaurant business (Earnspiration Report Issue 13)

Holiday restaurantsThey say the best sign of a relaxing holiday is when the simplest of tasks become difficult chores; something I can relate to having just returned from a week in the Canary Islands, where the biggest worries were limited to applying enough sun tan lotion and finding a nice restaurant for dinner each evening.

Now I’m by no means an expert on restaurants or eating out in general, but I know running a restaurant or bar is no easy business.

Whilst on holiday we tended to frequent a collection of eateries located on or near to the waterfront and it was easy to see how hard all of the restaurateurs worked – both night and day; all the time keeping a friendly smile and making sure their customers were happy.

Perhaps due to the touristy nature of their clientele, most of the restaurants had staff standing outside proactively touting for business from passers-by.

To a customer this type of hard sell can be very off-putting, but I can see why the owners would persist with it.  With the average tourist only staying in the resort for a week or two, there is limited repeat business and a need to focus heavily on new customer acquisition.

Tourists may hate walking the gauntlet of restaurant touts, but it would take a brave proprietor to abandon these tactics, especially when under constant pressure to get enough people through the door each day just to cover overheads and staff costs.

However some restaurants were doing great business without the need for ‘push tactics’.  Admittedly these tended to be smaller places, more often set a bit further back from the waterfront; but hating the hard sell experience, these were the places we decided to eat at in the evenings.

Aside from the lack of hard sell, what made these smaller restaurants particularly appealing was the fact that they each focussed on a particular type of food or way of eating whether it were traditional tapas, tasty fish dishes, Italian or even West Indian food.

Compare this to the bigger restaurants whose menus all resembled oversized billboards, covering every type of dish known to mankind.  TV chef Gordon Ramsey used to find this happening in failing restaurants in his television show Kitchen Nightmares and his first action was to trim the menus right down to a core offering using just two or three ingredients for each dish.

Ultimately the lack of theme or focus in the bigger restaurants left us uninspired and there was no way to differentiate them from each other, which is why the smaller specialists were so much more appealing.

As an outside observer, it would seem like a no-brainer for the bigger restaurant owners to focus and differentiate themselves to cater for more specific food tastes; however I’m not the one with money invested, costs to cover and jobs to protect!

I can only imagine the over-whelming temptation for the restaurateurs to be everything to everyone and to use strong sales tactics to capture as much business as possible.

Perhaps then, this is a lesson that we should takeaway and apply to our own businesses and careers, so that we ensure we are maintaining a sharp focus on our niche areas and not falling into the trap of trying to please everyone.

Top links and resources

Every week I scour the web for new interesting and inspiring articles and videos.  Here is the latest selection:


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Leadership & management

7 traits to turn good managers into great managers

Why leadership doesn’t always make you a good leader


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Malcolm Gladwell on what really makes people disruptive

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6 ways to avoid the pain of bad online reputation management

If you gave yourself a title – what would it be?


The freelance economy still runs on word of mouth

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How to model a multi-sided business


Looking for Ferrari’s lost spark

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Bono hails Ireland’s controversial business tax laws: ‘Tax competitiveness has brought the only prosperity we’ve known’

Books to read

An excerpt from Growth Hacker Marketing


Image from: James Mitchell Photography

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