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Small Business Lessons From Top French Chefs



Small business lessons were everywhere during a recent culinary tour of Paris and environs – as common, in fact, as butter, eggs and truffles!

Despite a flagging economy, it’s hard to get a reservation at restaurants in France with Michelin Stars and hefty price tags. Taking notes, between delicious bites, I uncovered 8 great ways to pack a restaurant in France, or a business anywhere!

  1. Innovate – “Traditional French Cuisine” was imported to householdsin the US by Julia Childs in 1961, and is still broadly available and delicious in France. However, at La Grenouillère, north of Paris, Chef Alexandre Gauthier creates deliciously innovative dishes with local ingredients. Each ingredient is celebrated, from the lobster tail served smoking in juniper branches to a dish with ice cream that has me dreaming of an herb garden. It was one of the best meals of my life. Innovative, not for the sake of innovation, but to create something wonderful and to, perhaps, even improve upon a classic.
  2. Execute Superbly – Restaurant ES, in Paris, has just a few tables. Chef Takayuki Honjo focuses his remarkable talent on each dish served to individual diners. His seafood was some of the best I’ve ever tasted, perfectly fresh and flawlessly prepared. While a top grossing restaurant in Las Vegas brings in $47 million a year, ES focuses on fewer than 25 diners a night. Sometimes it isn’t the shear volume but the exquisite execution the makes the small business succeed.
  3. Exclusivity – Let’s face it. Around the world there are exclusive places and objects that only the wealthy can afford. A purse can cost $85,000, for example. Customers buy because it is very expensive, and, therefore, they assume, the highest quality. At one 3 Star restaurant, a main course was almost $200 and appetizers over $100. The fillet of sole was not the most delicious dish I tasted, by any means, however it did have several thick slices of raw white truffle placed on top. There is a substantial market for exclusive products and services, and profits can be significant.
  4. Compelling Ingredients – Not everyone discerns the flavor distinctions between types ofbutter. For those who do notice the distinction, the flavor nuances come from the types of cows who produce it and the local feed they eat.  French butter has more fat in it and therefore, it tastes better.  Across France, the best butter is said to come from the cows in Normandy, near the D-Day beaches.  At each of the restaurants, the waiter would tell us about their butter, where it came from and what was unique about it.  Some was salty, some sweet, and some tasted of hazelnuts.  All of it fatty and delicious.  Having a story to tell about the uniqueness of a product or service heightens the customer experience.
  5. Make an Impact – Traditional French Cuisine is not typically focused on vegetables, but rather on proteins, including meat, cheese, and eggs.  Chef Alain Passard served a lunch tasting menu at Arpege, in Paris, with course after course of vegetable dishes, each more beautiful and delicious than the one before.  Placing such high value on beautiful Fall vegetables – healthy and delicious – will change the minds of people who don’t give vegetables a second thought or deem them to be a “side.”  The Chef was in the restaurant throughout the meal, hugging, shaking hands, kissing and sometimes sitting down with his clientele.  His impact is personal and will have long term effect on aspiring Chefs and diners who hadn’t thought about food that way before.
  6. Have A Specialty – Instead of trying to make everyone happy, perhaps it would be better to make something very special for some people.   At L’ami Jean, a cozy Bistro in Paris, Chef Stéphane Jégo serves a variety of traditional and delicious French dishes, however it is quite possible that most of the clientele are secretly there for the rice pudding.  It arrives for the table in a big bowl, with some small bowls of condiments.  Diners dish out the pudding and add any condiments they wish.  I watched as the diners dug into the creamy, gently sweetened pudding and smiled.  These children, parents andbusiness diners delighted in the specialty of the house.
  7. A Great Value – What happens when people are delighted first by the product or service and then delighted again by the reasonable bill?  Returning customers!  Le Baratin is a small, understated but bustling Bistro with terrific traditional French cuisine, prepared by a Raquel Carina.  Every dish she prepared was was delicious.   And when the bill arrived, we were further delighted.  A fair price, a terrific product, a great value.
  8. The Chef is in the kitchen – An interesting side note.  In all of the highly regarded restaurants discussed above, the Chef was in the kitchen, and sometimes in the dining room with customers, always making sure that the restaurant lived up to its reputation.  Being present is a critical way to ensure the success of your small business!

    Amanda Weathersby’s business Mindful Profits provides business analysis and forecasts to help companies seek funding, sell their companies, and merge with or acquire companies. Amanda has worked as a business consultant for multinational companies, for startups and for small businesses. She has taught entrepreneurship classes for five years.  The Weathersby Group (TWG) was Amanda’s first venture, created in 1990. The company provided consulting and staffing to high tech businesses in Washington, DC, Boston and New York. It grew to $15 million in revenue by 2000, when the company was sold to a publicly traded company.  You can view her profile HERE.

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