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Marketing & Branding Lessons We Can Learn From Restaurants

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A few restaurants’ models are observed & compared. Their levels of simplicity vs complexity and their menus are compared. Readers are invited to review the comparison and copy/emulate the business models according to the levels of success they’d want for their businesses.

This had to be simply the tastiest prawn wantan soup! Made from super fresh prawns.

How did I know the prawns were fresh? Because it said so at the front stall! Besides, my whole mouth is kinda “mengada” (picky) type. Just slight “un-freshness” is enough to drive me into a frenzy, almost. My mouth, be it the lips, the tongue, the gums, everywhere, would get itchy! When I get itchy, I need to scratch! Thus the near-frenzy!

How do I scratch the inside of my mouth except for the feeble attempt with my tongue?

Arrrrrgh!!!

But not these wantans/prawns. They were simply delectable, delicious, and delightful. Simply the best! Freshest I’ve tasted! Coupled that with a soup that is devoid of aji-no-moto or monosodium glutamate (MSG). At least to my taste and my wife, Emily’s. We couldn’t detect any hint of MSG. We’d know if there’s MSG. We’ve had our share of MSG. More than a fair share.

That’s why we truly appreciate and love MSG-less soups.

Today was not my first time here though. Actually, we almost ignored this place. We often drove by and saw the writing advertising what it sells. Often, we thought, “is that it?” In fact, almost by default now, if we are in Damansara Perdana for lunch, it would be at the Ayam Kampung Publika, the curry mee place, or the fish noodle place.

Thanks to doing Lalamove, one day I received my first order from this restaurant – TK Chong. Someone ordered the “kai see hor fun” (shredded chicken kwayteow soup) for breakfast. When I got there, it was almost full with customers having breakfast. Quite a few GrabFood and other Lalamove guys picking up orders also. Thus, I thought I must bring Emily and our son Arif, to try the food here.

It doesn’t have many items on its menu 

  1. Chicken/shredded chicken kwayteow soup.
  2. Prawn wantan soup.
  3. Chicken rice.

That’s it! And of course, various combo of these. Only (I think) eight lines on the menu. Not very exciting to be honest. Furthermore, we already have our favourite go-to chicken rice place. Won’t tell you where because you will ask for its “chop halal JAKIM”!

On our first visit, I ordered “kai see hor fun” with extra prawn wantans. While my wife Emily, and son Arif, ordered chicken rice.

While Emily said, “nice chicken rice”, Arif went “Hmmm, this is good!” after his first spoonful. After his third spoonful, slowly chewing and savouring the rice, he said, “Mmmmmphh!!! Simply the best!” Complete with his BIG eyes and closed eyes alternating – ecstasy…

Arif seldom slowed down to savour… He’s a gobbler! As Arif is our chicken rice connoisseur, we trust his judgement. I took a spoonful and I agreed. It came very close to our gold standard – my sister’s, chicken rice.

Today we went again as Emily and I really wanted the chicken rice. I was late there last week and they had already almost finished everything by 3pm. No more rice. Just some chicken left.

Today, we were disappointed again! No more rice by 2pm! The “kai see hor fun” and prawn wantan soup were still available. Still have chicken but no more rice. Oh well, we made do with what’s available. As they are delicious too!!! The “sambal” and chopped “chili padi” were like the icing on the cake, figuratively. We lapped, ok, I lapped the whole thing to the last drop of soup!

So, what really made this restaurant so successful?

Obviously, the food is so good. That simple. And a few more things of course.

We can see the parallels between Soon Soon Pan Mee & Fish Head Noodle (another restaurant nearby) and this TK Chong:

  1. Simple – not so many items on the menu.
  2. The menu revolves around similar items:
  3. One, two, or maybe three types of noodles only.
  4. One or two types of base soups only.
  5. Same vegetable (sawi) for all dishes.
  6. Super fresh prawn, fish, or fish paste.
  7. Focus on making these basic ingredients taste good and serve them fresh.
  8. Make it easy for customers to choose or do a very simple customization.
  9. Very sparse decoration (what deco?)
  10. Very clean shop (especially floor & toilet)
  11. Very fast to prepare (no need to do frying other than frying some fish pieces).
  12. Very fast to serve as dishes are easy to prepare.
  13. Easy to maintain food taste consistency – scoop rice (noodle), put the chicken (fish) in a plate (bowl), splash some kicap (soy sauce), pour soup into a bowl. Serve with condiments.
  14. Simple drinks also – nothing fancy, thus quick and easy to make.

Sure, it can be monotonous. Maybe the margin is also not so high. But then, you can sell the food cheap. Go for volume. I’d say that the prices here compared well to a plate of “chap fun” (economy rice/mixed rice) if you take rice, a piece of chicken/fish, egg and some vege. Something that you can alternate with chap fun.

Quick, nourishing, and yes, satisfying.

What were the lessons here when we look at the business/marketing/sales model?

These would be:

  1. Simplicity
  2. Know your market – demographic, psychographic, spending levels, and habits.
  3. Know how big you want your business to be.
  4. Know your why, and, align your why with your market.

I see many restaurants know their #3 quite well. However, #2 is quite blurry for them. I’ve seen first or second-timer restaurateurs or cafe owners still not sure about #2. They’d spend a lot on renovating and decorating their restaurant/cafe, when it was not even located in the right place, nor the right crowd. They’d also skimp on advertisements thus no one really knows where the restaurant/cafe is!

Next, with many items on the menu, they could be dependent on a few cooks/chefs – thus the cost. And if one cook leaves, they’d scramble to find someone who can cook the same exact taste. If that didn’t happen, customers would notice the shift in taste and would go somewhere else. If however, having only a few items to focus on, the owner/proprietor/cook/chef could start sharing the recipe and method with one or two trusted persons and not much in danger if someone leaves.

At the end of the day, it does depend on your #4; your “why?”, your dreams, and how big do you want your business to be.  Are you happy and content to be a TK Chong or Soon Soon Pan Mee & Fish Head Noodles?

Do you dream of being the next “Yun Bridge Noodles” Or do you dream to be the next “Secret Recipe” with outlets in Southeast Asia?

You decide.

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