On a muggy Saturday night in Lake Worth, Florida, I carefully navigate into the narrow parking space in front of the restaurant.
On my left, a black Porsche Boxster. To the right, a new Lexus. For a moment I feel almost declasse parking here in our late-model Camry!
Peggy and I had been looking forward to this extraordinary meal all week, and, as it turned out, the wait was well worth it.
Fresh ingredients… minutely detailed preparation… and every morsel bursting with flavor.
When we finished, I picked up the receipt. “What’s the damage?” Peggy asked.
I’m sure you know that an excellent dinner for two can easily run into three figures these days. And with prices going up everywhere, it’s only getting worse.
I read the total off the bill…
“Twelve dollars and 26 cents.”
“You’ve gotta love it, eh?” Peggy exclaimed.
Tacos el Carbon sits on a busy highway in the heart of Lake Worth’s old agricultural district. The heavily Mexican immigrant population provides a steady stream of customers for this roadside truck that’s been converted into an al fresco restaurant. Diners eat on picnic tables scattered amidst potted palm trees in what used to be a parking lot. (The trees are for sale as well!) Salsa music plays non-stop over a boom box.
The view may not be much, but the food is so good, you’re just as likely to see wealthy hipsters from Palm Beach here as farm workers in rickety pickups, young couples, and families of three or four generations. The word is out. The atmosphere here is fun, lively, and, best of all, authentic. (The burrito carne asada can’t be beat.)
Let me tell you, there is something very rewarding about having a wonderful Saturday night dinner in a genuine environment – not some manufactured “ambience” – and spending less than 20 bucks to do it.
And Mexican isn’t the only great ethnic food in our area. When I get a hankering for barbeque, I could go to one of the chains – but they can’t hold a candle to Troy’s, a roadside shanty practically sitting on the railroad tracks just off Martin Luther King Blvd. in Boynton Beach. The smoked ribs, collard greens, and sweet-potato pie are without equal. Only problem is, when I get a hankering for some “Q” on the weekend, more often than not the place is either packed beyond belief or they’ve already sold out for the evening.
And then there’s Bet’s Fish Fry up in my favorite summer town of Boothbay, Maine. While not strictly “ethnic food,” Bet is a tough Downeast dame who used to be in commercial fishing. A few years ago, she opened a small seafood shack with a couple of picnic tables on a lawn. Nowadays, it’s one of the most popular places in town, and has been written up in numerous New England travel magazines and guides.
I love discovering these “poor man’s gourmet” places like Troy’s and Bet’s and Carbon. Some folks call them “shacks” or “roadside trucks” or maybe even the perhaps-too-harsh “dives.” But whatever you call them, there are some evergreen marketing principles behind the success of these very modest businesses…
A Trio of Entrepreneurial Lessons From “Dive” Restaurants
Tacos el Carbon, Troy’s BBQ, and Bet’s Fish Fry all have a few things in common that any entrepreneur can take advantage of.
First, they keep their overhead low, and their prices lower. The marketing advice Michael Masterson offered way back in ETR’s very first issue was this: “To break into a competitive market, you need either (a) a big advertising budget (to establish demand for your product) or (b) a way to sell your product/service CHEAP so word will spread on its own.”
Second, they over-deliver on their promises. Even though they are small touches, Tacos el Carbon adds a slice of avocado and fresh lime to their burritos. Troy’s throws in a complimentary corn muffin or two. And Bet’s gives you piece of fish so big that it looks like “filet of Moby Dick.”
And third, and perhaps most important, they all do one thing well – and they stick to what they know. Giving your customers too many choices can paralyze them into inaction.
Do One Thing Great and the World Will Beat a Path to Your Door
Tacos el Carbon doesn’t offer hot dogs and burgers to please the gringos.
Troy’s has no pastrami sandwiches for Uncle Sol visiting from Brooklyn.
And Bet’s menu has a grand total of two items: fried haddock and French fries. Take it or leave it. A typical scene at Bet’s goes something like this.
Dumbass Tourist: “Oh, hi there. Say, I was wondering. What do you have besides the haddock?”
Dumbass Tourist: “I see. Anything else?”
Bet: “Yeah, filet mignon, but only on Sunday.” (Bet’s is closed on Sunday.)
Dumbass Tourist: “Hmmm. Okay, I’ll take a haddock and fr…”
Bet: “ORDER IN. ONE HADDOCK AND FRIES!”
Sure, these “dive” restaurants may not be for everyone. Thousands of potential customers pass by every day that they don’t target with ads or attempts at broadening their appeal. But that’s fine. Because they know that when you try to please everyone, you usually end up pleasing no one.
Additionally, when you have a strong product or service, you’ll start attracting crossover business from outside your niche. Prospects will start finding you (just like the Palm Beach elite line up in the dirt parking lot at Tacos el Carbon). You don’t have to change your USP (unique selling proposition) or your marketing message one bit.
ETR’s colleague and achievement expert Robert Ringer puts it this way: “If you try to be all things to all people, you’re likely to end up without an enthusiastic, loyal group of fans, readers, customers, or clients. Go after a specific market, and forget about the people who don’t like what you’re offering.”
Robert continues: “A relatively small but loyal following may or may not make you rich, but it definitely can ensure that you and your family will enjoy a comfortable lifestyle.”
Perhaps just like Bet, Troy, and the folks at Tacos el Carbon!