Do You Want to Buy an Italian Restaurant?

Once there was a brand-new restaurant. An Italian restaurant, whose owners had great recipes and dedicated staff made up of loyal old friends ready to follow their lead, and a plan to deliver awesomeness to the masses.

They’d simplify, they’d proceduralize (oh yes they would no matter how many syllables it took), they’d distill the essence and perfect the methods, they’d run the flagship store tight (like… well, like a ship), and then they’d franchise the concept.

The concept? Upscale food to midscale people. After all, they had the recipes, and the experience, and the franchise know-how. Everybody wanted what they wanted, didn’t they?


The owners picked a location just outside of a large commuter’s city. On the inbound side of the highway—cheaper real estate, they reasoned. That’s a franchisable idea.

So what if you couldn’t easily stop on the way home—a fan will go past and turn around to get back to their favorite place!


Franchisably inexpensive, easily sourced, and blah, using every interior design cliché to convey faux-Italian and faux-upscale ambience. This, it would seem, will make fans of lovers of faux.

Product (The food)

Top-notch but never a flash of brilliance, because flashes of brilliance aren’t franchisable. This is the hardest for me to to critique, because I do believe procedures can help and maybe even save a small business, but procedures can also kill ingenuity and initiative if misused.

Unique Selling Point

Um, no. If you have a certain chain in your mind then you understand what I did—it’s been done. No matter how many times it was explained to me how this was different, I couldn’t see the difference. They wanted to sell themselves to franchisees. That was their customer. The people who have to come in and eat your food… merely visitors to tolerate. Why consider whether you offer them an Ideal Solution to their problem? Eyes on the prize.


The one element that probably could have propped up all the other short-sighted decisions, but staff were treated as placeholders—there to demonstrate how the next store would be run, after the wild success of this one convinced franchisees to jump on board. Devalued as people, and naturally, paid franchisable wages.


Well, close—

Instead, they were out of business in three years.

In many ways, their spectacular failure was a great run for me.

I was their chef, making my steady check by night while building my design business by day. I watched, bored with the real work; I listened to my old friends, the owners, from before the store opened until their last, regret-filled moments; and I soaked up the intentional and the unintended business lessons. More than any mentor could, they showed me how to evaluate an Experience from all sides.

Experience Design: (Not) the Italian Restaurant Way

Know who your customer is.

Your customer does not want what you want. Repeat: Your customer does not want what you want.

Take time defining what’s really remarkable about you. Flash your brilliance.

Put your internal stakeholders—the people who work for you, make the Experience worth raving about, and spread the word themselves if they love the company—FIRST. Always.

Make a plan; go ahead and make a big one. But work on the steps you need today to get to tomorrow, instead of staring at the far-off future and waiting for it to come and get you. If you can’t sell it, it ain’t gonna franchise well.

And, as wise Mamas everywhere will tell you, don’t get too big for your britches too soon.

What prize are your eyes on? You’ll need to focus in pretty close to see the next dollar coming your way, but if you see today’s sales that clearly, your raving fans will lead the way to the Big Dream.


Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson