Stay True to Your Values


Thomas Keller teaches us that sticking to your core beliefs may force you to leave a comfortable situation. He believed that small is beautiful and now all of his restaurants and portions are small. Customers seem to love a few bites of one thing and are happy to move on to the next tiny course.

Key Questions:

Q: How do I stand out in the crowd?
A: Refuse to compromise and you’ll discover new ways to do things. It is very difficult because we think that if we try to be like others we will gain more acceptance.

We know that Thomas Keller is willing to stay true to himself. First, he lost a partner when he wouldn’t compromise on the menu at Rakel. Second, when he saw The French Laundry and decided this would be the location of what he hoped would be his first successful venture, he would not relent. He had no money but he was so strongly attracted to the building in Yountville that he worked like a dog to put together the financing.

We all know that accomplished people do whatever it takes for them to achieve their goals. The runner runs the extra miles, the parent sacrifices for the children, the scientist works non-stop in the laboratory to prove out a theory, the rancher stays up all night to nurse a sick animal.

Something deep inside told Thomas Keller that this location was right for him. He said, it feels like home and it feels like it could be any where in the world. It is a magical place and he knew he would not be happy if he could not open a restaurant in this location.

Q: How do I do it differently from others in my marketplace?
A: While other American restaurants pile the plate high with food, Thomas Keller believes that small is beautiful. All of his restaurants are small and all of the portions appearing on plates are small. His kitchen in Yountville is small considering what he and his team accomplish in it everyday.

Q: How does this philosophy translate into a marketing strategy?
A: First, because he has limited seating and it is so hard to get a reservation, even more people want to come to The French Laundry. Thomas is not knocking down walls to add more dining space, he just makes people wait two months to join him for dinner.

People brag that they have a reservation. They brag that they went to The French Laundry and tell stories about the fabulous food. This creates a buzz and more demand.

Second, Thomas has figured out that people are sated by a flavor after just a few bites. Therefore, he pleases the customer by giving them a little of a lot. Thomas plans his meals based upon the law of diminishing returns: the more you have of something, the less you want of it. He says, “So we want to give you just enough to where you get to the point that you’ve had that last bite at the pinnacle of flavor. Your taste buds accept the flavor, realize the flavor, and then your mouth reaches the point where all of a sudden, it becomes saturated with the flavor and then your enjoyment of the flavor begins to diminish. Well, we want you to finish the dish before your enjoyment diminishes.”

Again, he creates buzz. The diner is so perfectly pleased, he tells everyone they must go to The French Laundry. Many diners don’t even know why they are so happy when they leave.

Q: Can this philosophy be applied to other businesses?
A: Sure. A great circus has so much variety that just as you might tire of the elephants, they bring out the lions. Theater works this way as well. It is called pacing. A play or musical that stays on any one thing too long will disappoint an audience.

Thomas Keller’s style may be difficult for diners, however, because we are all so conditioned to having salad, soup, main course, and then dessert. Thomas says he has no main course because every course to him is a main course. Every course is of equal value to the total experience. This offers a safety net because if you don’t like one particular dish, they’ll be another course along soon. What’s not to like?

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