Interview with Yelp



I was finishing up my book when I got a call in a cold night in December about meeting up with a couple of the marketing guys from Yelp. Yelp corporate was trying to get a hold of me for a few months now, since we used to be a decent sized advertiser of theirs, having spent upwards of $2,500 per month on Yelp advertising for all 8 locations in the Los Angeles area. Suffice it to say that when I had called to cancel our advertising campaign, they were not too happy. The return on investment (ROI) was just not there for us. Now you could say I did not read enough books on Yelp, did not take advantage of all Yelp had to offer, and was not responding to every bad customer review, and thus I was the cause of not having stretched our advertising dollars to the maximum, and you would be right.


According to a Nielsen survey commissioned by Yelp, four out of five Yelp users visit before spending money, and 93 percent say that visiting Yelp leads to a local purchase. 82 percent of the participants said they visit Yelp because they intend to buy a product or service.


Of the participants identified as Yelp users, 89 percent said they typically make a purchase within a week from the businesses they find on Yelp. The 93 percent who said Yelp leads to a local purchase included participants who responded always, frequently, or occasionally.


According to a study by Merchant Warehouse, as much as 87 percent of small businesses (SMBs) still don’t actively use the site – and they still aren’t actively doing online review management or monitoring their business’ online reputation, which could seriously undermine their bottom line. Moreover, 22 percent of SMB owners who have active Yelp listings have never actually looked at their profiles at all. 93% of people that visit Yelp, end up making purchases.


Merchant Warehouse was quick to note, though, that attitudes towards Yelp are at least starting to change: 77 percent of SMB owners say that the site has changed the way they respond to customer issues and complaints.


The study also revealed that consumer trust in online reviews is increasingly making an impact on the business bottom line. 90 percent of Yelp users say that positive online reviews influence their company buying choices. But all of these statistics mean little to a small business that can barely afford to make marketing purchases for their small restaurant. The most important thing a small restaurateur can do is to make wise business decisions that multiply their revenue. Many Yelp ad reps are quick to point out the benefits of using Yelp, and most do not know the little tricks we can do as business owners to increase conversion.


But these guys seemed cool. They had a laid back attitude that made me reconsider advertising with Yelp. After all, Yelp is the #1 web site that sends us leads and the #1 most visited web site for restaurant-based information in the world, so it is pretty important. We had already finished most of the chapters of this book, including the Yelp chapters, but the one missing piece of the puzzle was that although we had done extensive research and analysis on what Yelp was and how to be market yourself on Yelp, we had never actually spoken to official Yelp associates to give us the no-holds back, 100% No-BS lowdown on how to most effective market your restaurant brand on Yelp.




I met with Chase Raskowsky and Jordan Smith as they were leaving Los Angeles and on their way to LAX. Their flight was only in a few hours, but they had enough time to meet with me at our west LA Zankou on the corner of Sepulveda and Santa Monica boulevards. What we covered pretty much was the perfect bookend to everything one would need to know about Yelp. During the conversation Chase provided most of the answers with a lot of help and detail coming from Jordan.




Dikran: What’s the best way to get ROI on Yelp? It’s easy to just set up an ad campaign and keep that going, but that may not be the best solution for many small restaurants. People want to know how to get the best “bang for the buck”


Chase: Well, it goes into a lot of things, but what it essentially boils down to is being able to captivate the consumer that is looking at the Yelp listing. Imagine you have 5 different people looking at your Yelp listing; each of them may say something different because different things appeal to different people; there are different tools you can utilize on Yelp that cater to different people.


The example I always use is my girlfriend. I look at reviews and star ratings, so that is what’s important to me. But she could care less about how many reviews a business has; she looks at all the pictures since she is solely a visual learner. She bases her decisions on what she sees, because for her it is more visual. Now there are other people who look for discounts, deals, or offers, and that’s fine because everyone is looking for something different. For those people we have check-in offers, deals, and gift certificates. We try to aesthetically please all viewers and bring them in one way or another.


Jordan: The main thing is lead conversion. Most of your work should be dedicated to converting. For any quality business half their ROI should be focused on converting leads from web site visitors to paying customers. 20-40% of all their calls, clicks, or leads should be turned into [paying customers.] That’s the goal we see for their business. You should be converting web site clicks to actual visiting customers.


Dikran: At Zankou Chicken we have a long history of advertising with Yelp.  I noticed that Yelp would show me my advertising dollars as a sort of sales chart and show projection of increased sales based on increased traffic to our Yelp page from unique visitors. How accurate is this automated system of converting clicks into actual, projected sales? How do they calculate that how can Yelp prove that your advertising dollars are being turned into additional sales?


Chase: First off the revenue number that you see in the business owners account where it says “Yelp brought in $10,000 this month” is a new feature we are continuing to grow. (Dikran I added some screenshots for you that better explain how it is calculated) The consumer is allowed to enter the average revenue per customer, how often they expect them to use their service over a month/years time, and lead conversion from total leads (we as well supply industry estimates)




Sometimes it’s not the most accurate number but it’s a good picture of all the leads you are generating what revenue could follow. From the ten people that look on your website from Yelp, which ones come in and which ones don’t that is hard to estimate? So we allow you to put in general conversion percentages.





Dikran: So should people use Google Analytics to help keep up with all this?


Jordan: We track how many clicks go through Yelp to your web site.


Chase: There may be some disparity between the actual revenue generated immediately and the click through rate, but you have to look at it as opportunity revenue. You should think of people’s lifetime value after they become a customer from Yelp. Just to give you some perspective consider this story:


I found a restaurant on Yelp called Espetus in the heart of San Fransisco. I found it on Yelp a month after moving there, I took my girlfriend there, I took 20 people I know there, I took all my friends there. I probably have taken about 200 people there within the last year.




Dikran:That’s a lot.




Chase: So you have to think about the possibility that a new customer brings in many other new people to your restaurant. This is a great example of what can happen from one person finding your business on Yelp.




Dikran: So what do you think of the importance of the photo slides? Is it important to have the photo slide? Is it important to have nice looking shots? There is this assumption among many circles that the customer shots, while some may be amateurish, make people hungrier because they resemble true-life more than professional shots. The only problem is some of these shots people post look terrible and sloppy, which is not the best representation of our food so on the advertised locations I like to push those shots down on the list. Personally, I like to post professionally taken shots. What are your thoughts on that?


Chase: I would say the photo slide show is one of the most important things for a business, especially in your industry.  It is of a major importance to restaurants. When a consumer is looking at your listing, they are usually ready to eat. So if they see sloppy or bad shots, they have to convince themselves now either from the reviews or whatever else they are seeing to in turn eat at your restaurant.


This is extremely important for consumers because #1) they want to know what is available on the menu and #2) does it look appealing? If the first thing I see is an empty plate or a plate that doesn’t look good I may get turned off. If I can’t find good shots I may not be inclined to take the next steps, but if I do I very well could be ordering that dish I see within the hour.


If I have a couple of good shots of what the restaurant looks like and a few good shots of the plates, I would be willing to take the next steps. It’s good to have control over the photo gallery so you can push the sloppy looking photos down. We just talked to someone with a “please wait to be seated” sign as their first shot, so it’s important to be on top of that. You should want your page to look as professional as possible.


Jordan: I think the photo slide show is the most important thing about your listing. That’s what I look at and I use Yelp every single day. You can feature the consumer shots to make them feel special if it looks good. It’s not good if people are looking at your photo slide and there are no shots of good food even after the 4th shot.




Dikran: What’s the best and most ethical way to fight negative reviews?




Yelp: It depends on the nature of the business. If you own a business that has 5 or 10 reviews across the majority of the industry you are not going to be reviewed a lot. If you’re a lawyer for example you won’t have thousands of reviews, or nearly as many reviews as a restaurant per say. For example there are at least 20 people in here right now. We always recommend responding and being engaged. For restaurant owners this is harder, as you serve 100’s of people daily, where a home service business may help 1-2. Regardless it is good to be engaged with consumers on Yelp.


It’s good when the owner reaches out to a customer if they had a bad experience. I would say it helps bring them back; it helps them give you another shot. Commenting privately or publicly can do this.


Obviously not every situation can be amended but you should try commenting to them and helping them. Some businesses do the mistake of lashing out publicly at these negative reviewers. But you’re not thinking about the 1,000 other people that are going to be looking at that. Commenting public ally is good as well. Keep it as professional as possible. Think of the thousand other people that will read your response.


If I see a negative review and I see you tried to make up for it, it looks professional. If what you wrote is heartfelt, and not trying to bash the person, it will be authentic.


Jordan: Try to keep it brief. Private message them and see if you can make up for it.


I care that the business at least tried to make it better. If there is a discrepancy like false information about a business the business owner has the option to flag the review.




Dikran: What is the best combination to approach Yelp in terms of advertising with Yelp? Do you recommend doing Yelp deals or check-in offers?




Chase: At Yelp we have a very strong mobile platform. We are integrated into iPhone and most other smartphones nowadays. The majority of people are already on their phones.


What we highly recommend are check-in offers. The majority of the time people are checking out businesses on Yelp right now it’s on their phones. We recommend doing check-in offers. And you can rate and review businesses on your phone as well. Check-in offers for restaurants are the most important. If you check in it asks questions about the restaurant, allows you to share with all their personal social media platforms, and even prompts the user to leave a review right on your phone.


For example a common check in on yelp for restaurants is “check in and get a free drink”. I take out my phone, I can see the check-in offer, and I can also share that on other social platforms like Facebook telling my friends where I am eating. This is just added benefit and added exposure for you. From the business owner side of it, you will attract more business, plus it’s much easier to track, so for example if 39 people did check in it means they were physically inside your store.




Dikran: What are some inside marketing tips you can give to the readers of this book? How is it best to use this platform?


Jordan: Sign up for the business owner app on the phone. This will make it more real because you can track things in real time. Take advantage the free tools we offer. There are many things you can do to help your customers and monitor your business that are completely free.




Chase: Many people that own businesses don’t even log in. It’s completely OK if you don’t want to advertise, but we have many free tools they can use. You can always buy a photo slide show for just $25 per month. That’s not going to break the bank and thousands of people will see a much nicer representation of your business.


The consumers will see something that looks much better, much more aesthetically pleasing. The people that are finding you, will have a better representation of your business, and with the slide show you don’t have to commit to anything.




Dikran: Is there anything new going on that we should know about at Yelp within the last year?


Chase: We have a new feature on iOS. You can find new places and activities in your area. Left swipe from your home screen and find new restaurants and bars in your area.


Dikran: What about Seatme and Eat 24?   [Seatme is Yelp’s reservation platform and Eat24 is their delivery platform]


Chase: We are now offering $99 as a flat rate for Seatme and it’s working great. We give you an iPad to control your reservations as well. What is nice is the program has a monthly flat rate and doesn’t charge per reservation like Opentable. Eat 24 our delivery platform is doing really well also.


Jordan: We are now almost completely transitioning to using cost per click in terms of advertising. Customers love it because it’s performance-based advertising. It’s a great option for businesses that want to maximize ROI. We are seeing great results with that especially for customers that want great ROI.


Dikran: Thanks a lot for agreeing to do this interview. Many people have a lot of these questions and it’s not easy for them to talk to an insider, so I am sure all of this will be very useful.


I hope you don’t miss your flight.


What are the few top mistakes you see restaurants doing and what are the most important things they should be doing?


Chase: I would say the top mistake I see businesses do is lashing out at Yelp and becoming disengaged due to a bad review. Something turns them off from their consumers and they stop becoming engaged, they stop caring, and they just stop logging on. But Yelp doesn’t stop just because you are not logging in or checking on your customers, and many people are still viewing your listing monthly. In the restaurant industry it’s hard to ignore Yelp.


They need to realize it is part of the business. It’s not good to turn away from Yelp in this industry solely due to how many people discover your restaurant because of Yelp.


This goes back to logging in the business owner’s account and make sure you keep up with what’s going on. Make sure you download the app and log on as the business owner.


Jordan: Since I use Yelp every day I realize how important this is. Not every business owner recognizes this importance. They don’t appreciate Yelp’s many options that are available. Some of the best sales and conversations I have had with customers came from bad reviews. Sometimes there’s a generational shift and some people don’t understand this.




Chase: We are growing. We’re releasing new things and coming up with better tactics. A lot has changed since 2013. We now have updated versions of everything. We want to help business owners to understand Yelp in a good way and see what is on there. Many people don’t know how to upload the pictures and set up the business listing so we are here to help. We can help show you how to monitor your leads and update your listing as well.




Jordan: Have a conversation with someone from Yelp, set up a check in offer, don’t hide the fact that you’re on Yelp, encourage people to check out your Yelp listing, but don’t ask people to rate you on Yelp. You can say “Check us out on Yelp” and in this way they feel no pressure.


Chase: If you ask people to rate them they may feel pressured. They may not say or show that they are pressured but that’s how they may feel. But a check in offer and stuff like that is strategic without being pushy. A poster that says “Check us out on Yelp” has much less pressure.


Jordan: For business owners asking for reviews is lazy. You worked hard and you’re an entrepreneur so you have to learn to be strategic. Put a sign up that says “Check us out on Yelp” and be subtle. Let everything you worked to create work for you, asking for reviews basically negates all the hard work you put in.


Dikran. Thanks again for all this great info. Also, today you guys checked out Zankou Chicken for the first time, so what do you think?


Chase: (laughs)…5 Stars! The rice is beautiful; awesome food.


Jordan: The rotisserie chicken was great. I loved that it was awesome. 5 stars!






Questions for editors

hi my name is Dikran Iskenderian. For the last 2 years I have been busy writing a book about restaurant marketing, which along the way transitioned into a book that is also about restaurant management (and also leadership, how to open and run a restaurant, etc). I have been working in my family business for over 25 years. We run Zankou Chicken, a small chain of restaurants in Los Angeles and Orange County here in sunny southern California. It’s been in business for over 50 years, and in the United States since 1984 (in Hollywood).

I am in the process of transitioning from just owning/ operating restaurants into public speaking, teaching, and networking primarily in the business and marketing world. The reason for this is simple. I love having a book written ( I can’t say I love writing because that’s like saying I love going to the dentist). Although the process has been difficult my hope is that the results will be rewarding. With myself and my coauthor we researched all of the things a prospective restaurateur would like to know and wrote papers on it week after week (for 18 months straight).  This included everything from leases to where to open, how to hire and fire the right people, food prep, kitchen maintenance, and restaurant industry protocol. Basically I wrote about everything I’ve learned (the best of it at least) for the last 25 years.

What I did not know, I went out and sought. I interviewed my family members and business associates. For example my cousin Jack Nasher in Germany wrote a best-selling book on negotiation so I interviewed him on how restaurant owners should negotiate with vendors. I interviewed a professional lease preparer who calls himself the Lease Doctor. I interviewed my mom and brothers on the best that they have learned. I interviewed the best catering business in LA, a 5 star chef, etc

So I am not sure how to put this book together. Primarily it will be used as my own teaching material for a future class and/or seminars I wish to conduct. But I also want it to be easy to read and fun. I want it to be as entertaining as it is educational.

I wondered about structuring the interviews into one narrative, but I don’t think that would be right because these people would lose their own voice. So I think the best solution is to possibly split the work in two, the narratives coming first followed by the interviews in the 2nd half of the book.

Then again that’s just my opinion. I want a professional, third party to take all of this and make it flow in a beautiful, cohesive book (or 2 books).

I also want help in determining how I should do all of this. Most of the people I spoke with have told me to simply cut the fat and put it into one book, even if that means it’s a 600 page book. I am OK with this because I would feel much more comfortable asking students to buy one book versus two books. It’s also a better long term strategy because one book would garner a greater number of reviews (hopefully positive reviews) on Amazon then if I split it into two.

My latest idea is to make it all one book, and make the stuff that is boring (like the health grades chapter and the chapter on ADA, into a free PDF I can pass out. In other words I would keep the top 70-80% of the book, cut the fat and make it better, and make the remaining 20-30% that is boring available for free.

We can talk more later about what is best to do obviously. But I am really curious as to who is the best person to help me do all of this. I came up with the following questions to help me determine that. Please answer them if you want to help me with this project:

1) How much time and money do you estimate a 200,000-word manuscript to be? Can you edit a sample chapter or at least 3-5 pages so I can see the quality of your work?

2) Why are you the best person qualified to help me edit this material? Blaise Pascal sad “If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter.” Are you confident that you can scale down a 200,000+ word book into one with about 175,000 words or less that is to the point?

3) Are you open to telephone AND email communication throughout the process?

4) Can you send me any references of your published work and any third party recommendations?

5) Will you be using anyone else to edit my material or outsourcing any of your work ? If so can you please list their education, past history of edited works, and recommendations from others about them here.

6) Can you help re-write some of the material such that the chapters flow better ? Specifically can you help in the process of ordering the chapters into a better sequence so it’s easier for the reader to breeze through the material?

7) Since I have so much material I am considering putting some of it aside for a second book or at the minimum a free download “report” on the industry I can give away as a promotion. Can you help me choose which material is best for publication and which I should give away?

8) If the material is divided in two books (one on restaurant management and the other on restaurant marketing…) would you be able to help with that? One would be a Restaurant Management book and one would be a Restaurant Marketing book. Do you have any experience splitting works into two separate books?

9) Do you have any experience editing text books? This book will be used for my future classes/ seminars I will conduct on this subject and any academic background or professional published materials can be mentioned here. Please list any works you have edited that have been used on the college and/or university level.

10) Finally, your expertise is in editing and not writing and I appreciate that. However, in this case, I may need someone to help write a little bit just to help link the chapters and make the book flow smoothly. Are you able to do that?


Interview w Rita Iskenderian

Rita Iskenderian, president of Zankou Chicken, knew next to nothing about the ins and outs of her family business empire when her husband Maridos suddenly died in 2003. With four sons who were too young to shoulder the responsibilities that their highly creative and entrepreneurial father had almost single-handedly shouldered, Rita found herself thrust in the day-to-day affairs of her small but vibrant chain of restaurants in the Los Angeles area. Overnight, Rita went from never having worked a single day in her life to slogging 14 hours every day of the week. How she managed is an inspiring story of mind over matter—of persistence over frailty—together with the realization that struggles and sacrifices have always been the bedrock of her family business.

Dikran: You’re a mother and the president of Zankou Chicken—what do you like most about being a leader?

Rita: I usually ask wise people around me for advice. I don’t like making decisions by myself. I would say that I am a democratic type of leader. I don’t enjoy making all the rules. It’s all about teamwork.


Dikran: But what do you like most about that position?

Rita: As I said, what I like is … . To tell you the truth, I wish your father were here to be the leader. That would have made me more comfortable. I always depended on him to make the right decisions. All of a sudden I was left with a lot of decisions to make, a lot of load to take. It’s not easy at all.

Dikran: You are loved by our employees. They approach you and love to see you. What is it about you that makes employees love you so much? What’s the secret to having that kind of relationship with employees?

Rita: I think the employees have such a relationship with me because I love them and I respect them. A lot. That’s why they love me and respect me. They are the reason I am here. They are the reason to make this business grow. I always respect what they do. I want to help each one of them. I want to be there for them and do whatever I can to make them more comfortable—to give them health insurance and other facilities. I love my employees. Without them, the business will not grow. It will not be there.

Dikran: A lot of people are interested to know about the origin of Zankou. We came here from Lebanon. What was it that helped us succeed? A lot of immigrant families fail. They try to open a business but it doesn’t work.

Rita: It’s the persistence to keep working hard. Sometimes you don’t make any profits. Instead, you have to invest your own money into the business. We struggled when we came here. For the first three or four years we didn’t make any money.

In fact, on the first day in our first store in Lebanon, we sold only one chicken. The second day we sold two. But we persisted. On our first day in Hollywood, your dad was so busy that his feet got swollen from standing up. At the end of the day, he had to walk with the help of two people. But it was one the happiest days of his life.

Dikran: You didn’t make any money, and everyone kept putting money in so that the business would survive?

Rita: Yes.

Dikran: People don’t know that. They think we succeeded right away. When the Hollywood Zankou opened in 1984, it was very busy.

Rita: Yes. It was very busy but then slowly it [the number of customers] went down. We had to struggle to make things better.

Dikran: That’s very interesting. People don’t know that.

Rita: Yes. I struggle at the house, but your father and your grandparents struggled a lot. They were stressed a lot. They weren’t making any profits. At one point, your father had to let employees go.

Dikran: So dad was making the food instead of them. I remember that.

Rita: Yes. He was the cashier, the cook—he was the one carving the meats.

Dikran: He said he didn’t have time for a bathroom break.

Rita: Yes. So, to go back to your question, when people keep losing profits it’s very hard to keep going. They close the business. But we believed in what we were doing so we kept struggling and slowly—very slowly—the business caught up. We put different items on the menu. Seven years after our first store in Hollywood, we opened in Glendale in 1992.

Dikran: You have a great palette. You know a lot about food. You cook a variety of dishes. How does one build on that tradition and make it succeed on the restaurant level?

Rita: I was not the one who put all the ingredients together. That was your father. He had a better taste in his mouth than me. He was very good at that. He changed the menu all the time. He changed the ingredients.

Dikran: He kept changing the ingredients until they got to what they are today.

Rita: Yes. I’m not the one who put those ingredients together. I added the tabouleh to the menu—it was my idea. I added the ingredients. I also added the rice and the ingredients to the kebabs. The rest was all your father’s doing.

Dikran: So dad was constantly making the dishes better.

Rita: Yes. But to make things better and better you have to use the best ingredients.

Dikran: High-quality ingredients.

Rita: Yes. For example, you can’t use “Chinese” garlic—low-quality garlic—in our menu. You have to use the highest quality garlic and the finest meats. We get our garlic fresh from Gilroy every day.

Customers are not stupid. They are not fooled by cheap ingredients. They will taste the food and go somewhere else. To keep customers, you have to use the best ingredients and be consistent in the way you prepare your food.

A stingy person can’t be a restaurant owner; you have to be generous. If a dish goes bad, you throw the whole thing out and start afresh. If you suspect that the meat or chicken tastes just a little different than what it should be, you have to throw out everything. You may have a lower profit margin of course, but it’s worth it because if your food is fresh and has high-quality ingredients and you will sell more of it. The profit will come from the volume of sales. That’s our secret—our profit margins are small, but we sell a lot.

Dikran: A lot of times when people look at our dad and at what happened to him and our family, they tend to judge him because they didn’t know him. You knew him very well. What part of our father do you want people to remember?

Rita: What happened [in our family] was because of his sickness. If he weren’t sick, nothing like that would have happened. He was a very generous, giving person. He had a heart of gold. He gave to Armenian schools and churches. And he gave without making his contributions public—he didn’t want people to know. If you compare his earnings to what he gave, nobody we know gave as much as he gave to the community. In fact, the more people came to know that he was a giving person, the more they came to ask him for money.

All the writers and singers—a lot of different kind of people. They came every day. And he just kept on giving more and more. At one point he said he couldn’t go to the store because people are coming and asking for money all the time. He said, It’s better for me to sit at the house because I can’t say no. He couldn’t say no to anybody. He gave everything he had. I never saw a more generous person in my life. That’s how I want people to remember him. He was very smart and very giving.

After we got married, the first Christmas that we were together, he didn’t want to go anywhere. He said to me, I’m going to take you places. We were in Lebanon back then. He took me house by house, knocked on the doors of people I didn’t know, and gave them money. That was our first Christmas as husband and wife. The whole evening we went from house to house, giving people money. He had a heart of gold—maybe diamond.

Even before he opened the Glendale store, we used to go downtown on Christmas and give money to the homeless. From the car, me and him. Our Christmas was like that. We did that two or three times. Then I got scared because the people hung onto the moving car and put their hands inside.

Dikran: You’re a very persevering person. How did you overcome a lot of difficult circumstances both in business and in life? Our house caught on fire, business went up and down—I can’t even name all the tough situations.

Rita: My husband taught me to be strong. Whatever happens in life, he said, you have to be strong. God forbid, even if you lose one of your sons, he would say to me, you still have to be strong. Because life is for strong people. You can’t be weak in life, otherwise …

Dikran: People will walk all over you.

Rita: Yes. That’s why I’m very strong in personality. Look at Armenian people in general. They survived the genocide. And look where they are now. We have that instinct to survive—and thrive—in our blood. Every Armenian likes to work.

Dikran: Armenia is famous for its mountains. An artist who once visited the country said that no other place has mountains of such striking colors and textures. And he compared Armenia’s mountains to its people: Armenians are as strong and hard as the mountains in their motherland. Do you agree?

Rita: Yes. But look at it this way. All over the world, when the parents pass away they leave their belongings to their children. Armenians were massacred so heavily during the genocide that they lost everything. Even those who survived couldn’t leave anything to their children. They had to work hard. They started from zero. So it was not that their strength came from hundreds of years [of history]. They had to persevere. And they had a dream of succeeding. That’s the difference between Armenians and people of other countries, as I see it.

Dikran: One other country that has been through a lot and whose people are famously tough are Koreans. And the two things that Armenians and Koreans seem to have in common are the emphasis on family and food. Food is a big part of Korean culture, as it is among Armenians. Where, in Armenian culture, despite all of Armenia’s historical crises, do you think that emphasis on food comes from?

Rita: The emphasis on family, I think, comes from the fact that Armenians were separated from each other over much of recent history—in the 1800s, and then again in 1915 [the year of the Armenian Genocide]. So the family was an institution that was almost worshiped, and it became a source of strength because Armenians wanted to keep their families together. The brutality of the genocide prompted Armenians to develop stronger bonds with each other on the level of the family.

My husband’s grandmother, for example, survived the genocide and was living with us. She lost her younger brother in the genocide and she never stopped dreaming about him. She believed he was in another country. She never saw him again, but her bond with him and other members of her immediate family was very strong. When my second son was born, she implored me to name him after her brother—Stephan.

Dikran: Do family and food also have a bond in Armenian culture?

Rita: Yes. When family members get together, what else are they going to do? They’re going to eat! Just the other day, for example, I wanted to see the mother of my “bride” [Dikran’s wife, expectant at the time with their first child] so I decided to cook. Food brings people together.

Dikran: What kind of food did you grow up eating?

Rita: Armenian food, Middle Eastern food.

Dikran: Name a few dishes.

Rita: Sarma—or dolma—grape leaves. There are also some traditional foods that Armenians brought with them. Each village in Armenia had its own food—or a typical dish. For example, your father was from Hajian, which had its own speciality food, such as jidabour. Hajian is in Turkey now—it was one of the villages that Turkey took from the Armenians. My family was from Aintab, which also had its own dishes. For example, we made an eggplant dolma. Other villages had a cous-cous dish cooked with tomato and lemon, without meat.

So when Armenians went to other countries, such as Lebanon and Syria, they took with them their culinary traditions. And there, they began making dishes from other villages as well because they were next to each other.

So Armenians began cooking tabouleh, which is a Lebanese dish. Or shawerma, which is an Arabic dish. But nobody would cook a dish better than the people to whom it was native. People from Aintab, for example, cooked the best dolma. And nobody could cook jidabour better than the people from Hajian. It’s a meat-and-grain dish that has to be cooked for hours.

Dikran: Was your mother a good cook?

Rita: Yes—but my mother-in-law was a better cook. They had different ways of cooking. When I got married, I didn’t know anything about cooking. Afterward, I learned everything about cooking from my mother and my mother-in-law. I mixed their methods and came up with my own!

Dikran: What’s it like to preside over a family business—what are the ups and downs of the process?

Rita: I highly value my family business because I witnessed all the struggles that went it making it a success. My husband struggled at the business, and I struggled at home, where I was alone all the time, seven days a week. I didn’t drive at the time. I didn’t see my husband day and night. We didn’t go out, we didn’t do anything [together] for years.

Dikran: Which business owners do you admire?

Rita: The restaurant business is a very difficult business. I admire all the people who, without franchising, have made it to the top. I can name a couple, such as In & Out Burger and Panda Express. Panda Express started at the same time as us, in 1984. They have something like 1,500 restaurants and are in a better position today than we are. I want to be like them one day. But without franchise—I don’t like franchises.

Do you sometimes think the owners of Panda Express have a level of stress 10 or 50 times more than yours?

No, I don’t think so. I think they are in a position now where they can relax and where their business manages itself. But our business is different. The food is different. It’s not like In & Out, where you serve hamburgers and French fries. It doesn’t take much to make hamburgers and French fries.

Dikran: Panda Express can train a cook in two weeks. At Zankou, a cook needs to be talented as well as a master of technique.

Rita: Yes. Our food, on the other hand, takes time to cook. It has many ingredients, multiple spices. It’s marinated. To cut the food, put it together, make the sauces, it’s a lot of work. That’s why it’s not easy for us to that way [like Panda Express or In & Out Burger]. But that doesn’t mean we don’t want to grow. My dream is that one day we have 1,000 locations—without franchising—preserving the same quality of food. Day and night I think about it, I dream about it. I saw my husband and mother-in-law and father-in-law struggle a lot. And I want to grow my business to such a point that when I meet them one day I can tell them, Look what I did with your business.

Dikran: When you took charge of Zankou Chicken after dad passed away, what did you find in the first few days or weeks?

Rita: All of a sudden, when you and your brothers came to me and said, Mom, you have to work, my reaction was, Oh, wow, until now I didn’t have to work, and now that I lost my husband I have to work! I felt bad about that.

Fortunately, my sister was there to help out. She worked as the manager for our Pasadena and Van Nuys restaurants. I watched what she was doing. For two or three months I watched while helping her. At that time, in 2003, we didn’t have credit cards—the business was all cash. I used to count the money with my sister, and it was a lot of money. When we made a mistake we had to count the whole lot of money again.

And all the while, when I started working, I couldn’t look at the employees’ faces! Gradually, I got to know them one by one, and I was there for them. Some of them needed financial assistance, so I would give them cash and they would return it little by little. I helped them every way that I could. I became friendly with them. Little by little I opened up to them and they opened up to me. And that’s how the bond started between me and our employees.

With time, and with the advice and help of my sons, I changed the management system and made it more efficient so I didn’t have to go from store to store every day. But for 10 years I didn’t go for even a one-week vacation. My sons were free but I was not free. The first time I left was when my brother got sick in Germany. He had cancer, so I had to go and see him. And the second time I left was when he died. I went to his funeral.

Dikran: Would you have preferred to continue living the way you always had—not involved in the business at all?

Rita: No. Your dad gave me a very different view of life. I was a mom, I was cooking all the time. I didn’t get involved with the business and didn’t have a business-oriented mind. I wasn’t meeting people.

Dikran: Suddenly your life opened up to the rest of the world.

Rita: Yes. Sometimes I wish I hadn’t change the system so I would still be going from store to store.

Dikran: Who did you turn to for advice?

Rita: I asked my sons. I didn’t do anything without their approval or opinion. I didn’t act alone at all. But then again, the business teaches you things that you don’t know. When you are there every single day, you think of ways to do things better. And because you are there every day you notice things nobody else notices. You also learn that where there is a will there is a way.

Dikran: What advice would you give to someone—another businesswoman, say—who is compelled to follow the same path that you did?

Rita: Value your business. You have to really love what you’re doing—don’t go into a business if you don’t want it and don’t love it. Be persistent and give the best to your customers. If you give good value to your customers and value your business, your struggles will be rewarded one day.

Dikran: Our family business is now in its third generation and doing quite well. What advice would you give to the fourth generation?

Rita: Do what you love to do. Value the business you are in—don’t take it for granted. And if you’re still in the family business, remember that your grandfathers and grandmothers struggled to make it work.

Dikran: What are your top three words of advice for people reading this book?

Be strong. Eat healthy. Love people.

Time Management

Let’s start with the most basic: Write down your goals every day using one-hour blocks of time. I use my iPhone calendar but you can use a simple notebook, a software program, or anything else you want. Typically phones work best as they now come with ping reminders to help you finish tasks. Some say doing this the night before is best. Here are the others:

  1. Plan the week in advance. For example I speak on every other Wednesday. On Thursdays we have company meetings. On Friday and Saturday nights I work my other job, and on mornings I try to write a little each day. On weekends I edit my book…etc

2) Try to plan for even fun evenings or dinners in advance. Planning saves time and makes life more pleasurable even for leisure.

3) Use deadlines. This will force you to finish tasks, and will help you get things done before you start any new projects.

4) Use Google calendar. This can sync with most smart phones and reminds you when things are due. It’s a great way to sync phone tasks with your desktop or laptop computer.


5)  Use lists and organize tasks with priorities. Remember to get the most important tasks done first and then tackle the medium to low-level priority tasks.

6) Learn to say no. I refuse to answer any calls on my phone I do not recognize. I refuse to answer Facebook messages that ask me for money, donations, or my own involvement in events from people I do not know and from people that have done nothing for me in the past. It goes back to my talk about reciprocity. People I know and high value people in my life are of course, completely different.

7) Finish tasks early. Never procrastinate and leave the important things for later. As you do this more often, your tolerance for other people wasting your time will decrease as well.

8) Restrict the amount of time to complete a task. Parkinson’s law states “work expands to fill the time available for its completion”. Give yourself all the time you need to complete important tasks, not all the time you want.

9) Listen to music and crowd out noise. I find that listening to classical music in the background helps me relax but also gets my mind focused on finishing one task. This is how I was able to write 600 pages in 18 months. I did it using timed blocks each morning and evening, using the Lord of the Rings soundtrack from Howard Shore to help my imagination sparkle.

10) Tell people about your goals and deadlines. I told many people about my book I was writing with Brian Tracy in 2014. It is now completed and available on Amazon. Now I am telling people about my next book, and that it will be available by March 31, 2016. This will force us to finish what we start because the result will be embarrassing if we don’t.

 11) Do only one thing at a time. Multitasking is something cell phone manufacturers created and doesn’t work for difficult, meaningful projects that make a difference in your life.

 12) Remove time wasters. If you waste too much time on Facebook take away the Facebook window while you ware working or shut off the internet. If you love checking your phone for text messages or browsing Instagram turn it off during important tasks.

13) Be an exceptionality expert and not a perfectionist. Perfectionists never get anything done while someone aiming to simply do exceptional work finishes tasks and moves on to the next thing.

  • 14) Prioritize and use the 80/20 rule. The 80/20 rule states that 80% of our income and quality of life usually comes from about 20% of the good work we put in. Find this talent and work more on that.

15) Delegate any task that others can do better than you. Nothing will help you fail faster than trying to do everything yourself.

16) Time things so that you can get things done quicker geographically. For example if you are visiting the post office why not buy a few stamps you may need later? If you get one thing from the market why not get everything you need for the next 3 days?

 17) Get everyone ready before you arrive. What I like to do is set up meetings before I arrive so that the printouts are ready, the papers are printed, the computers are set up, etc. When I am going to a restaurant I call AHEAD AND MAKE SURE THE ORDER IS READY BEFORE I GET THERE. Little things like this make a big difference.

 18) Reduce meetings. Many meetings are time wasters. To make meetings meaningful, make sure the agenda is prepared in advance and everyone does their homework. Nothing kills time faster than being in a room full of opinionated people without getting anything accomplished.

 19) Use automation. I use Gmail to block many unwanted spam mail and I use a program called TrapCall to help me filter phone calls and also text me voice messages. It’s probably saved me dozens of hours because I never listen to voicemail.

20) Sleep early and wake up early. Those hours in the morning are best for getting things done, and if you can work out or do something else productive before 8 am, you are already ahead of 95% of the population

4 Parts to a Legal Contract

In common law legal systems, a contract (or informally known as an agreement in some jurisdictions) is an agreement having a lawful object entered into voluntarily by two or more parties, each of whom intends to create one or more legal obligations between them. The elements of a contract are “offer” and “acceptance” by “competent persons” having legal capacity to exchange “consideration” to create “mutuality of obligation.”[1]   (Wikipedia)


 Here are the 4 parts to a contract:

1. Offer – One of the parties made a promise to do or refrain from doing some specified action in the future.

2. Consideration – Something of value was promised in exchange for the specified action or non-action. This can take the form of a significant expenditure of money or effort, a promise to perform some service, an agreement not to do something, or reliance on the promise. Consideration is the value that induces the parties to enter into the contract.

The existence of consideration distinguishes a contract from a gift. A gift is a voluntary and gratuitous transfer of property from one person to another, without something of value promised in return. Failure to follow through on a promise to make a gift is not enforceable as a breach of contract because there is no consideration for the promise.

3. Acceptance – The offer was accepted unambiguously. Acceptance may be expressed through words, deeds or performance as called for in the contract. Generally, the acceptance must mirror the terms of the offer. If not, the acceptance is viewed as a rejection and counteroffer.

If the contract involves a sale of goods (i.e. items that are movable) between merchants, then the acceptance does not have to mirror the terms of the offer for a valid contract to exist, unless:

(a) the terms of the acceptance significantly alter the original contract; or
(b) the offer or objects within a reasonable time.

4. Mutuality – The contracting parties had “a meeting of the minds” regarding the agreement. This means the parties understood and agreed to the basic substance and terms of the contract.

When the complaining party provides proof that all of these elements occurred, that party meets its burden of making a prima facie case that a contract existed. For a defending party to challenge the existence of the contract, that party must provide evidence undermining one or more elements.


The 30 Best Ways to Motivate Employees and Boost Morale

1) Encourage involvement. Your employees would feel more like owners if they helped make decisions and come up with ideas. Involve them in these processes and initiate their participation.

2) Shared responsibility. Each employee should share responsibility. No one is above their duties and it should not be beneath anyone to help clean dishes or wipe down tables. We had one employee who refused to clean since she was hired as a cashier. She was quickly dismissed from her duties. Humility and hard work form the bases of any solid restaurant crew.

3) Fairness and Clear Instructions. Employees feel really bad when they are scolded for not doing things right when they were not trained well in the first place. It is on owners and managers to consistently train employees. Likewise, you should reward performance based on behavior and results and not based on whom you like more. Favoritism destroys morale.

4) Offer technical support. We created training videos and showed each employee how to properly wear chain-link gloves while dicing tomatoes and lettuce. It helped reduce injuries because the videos were easy to watch and had Spanish subtitles. Always offer employees training from videos, manuals, posters, and whatever else they need to make their jobs easier.

5) Have some fun. Organize birthdays and other reminders to employees that you actually care about them as people. Celebrate new births with cakes and spread the good cheer. It’s contagious. Small expense gifts like birthday cards. balloons, cakes, and coffee go a long way toward increasing morale.

6) Monthly Sales Goals. You can offer rewards like $100-500 for whoever does the highest sales. You can even up the ante and offer $25 gift cards to all the members of the team of the location that tops the charts in sales for every month. This will help the sales charts climb higher and higher.

7) For many people it’s not just about the money. Their picture on the bulletin board or framed on the wall alongside an “Employee of the Month” badge would mean a lot. They can be proud of their hard work and feel good in front of their peers.

 8) Longevity Bonus. Not long ago I created small pins and badges for people that have served our customers for 10, 15, or 20 years or more. I am sure you have seen this worn on supermarket cashiers. This may help reduce turnover, as people are proud to be part of a company for so long.

 9) Extracurricular Activities. Things like hiking, rowing, or playing sports create a bond between people and makes teamwork stronger. For our 50th anniversary we held a huge soccer match at a park in Glendale and had each location play against each other. It was an entire day of fun, sports, free food since we brought steak and BBQ, and the entire families of associates were thrilled.

 10) Free meals. Offer the meals employees eat at the restaurant for free. If you can’t afford to do that at least offer them a discount. We recently went from a discount to completely free. I am not sure if we will be able to continue to do so with the minimum wage increases coming, but that’s a topic for a whole different chapter.

 11) Allow naps. There are many studies done showing that taking small naps increases productivity for the rest of the day. Do not let anyone get in trouble for sleeping on their breaks, and allow for a nice, comfortable area where they may do so if space permits.

 12) Identify Employee Expectations. Employees can’t do their job well if they don’t even know what to do. Spell this out for them by having written policies which is the next point.

13) Have Written Policies. Employees should know what is expected of them and what rules not to break. You will often see managers upset at employees regardless of the fact that employees were never told about all the rules. This rulebook can be updated and should get better with time.

14) Reward good behavior and punish bad behavior. It is not enough to just reward good behavior; we must also hold those that break the rules responsible as well. While you should not overdo it, appropriate rewards and punishments go a long way toward showing everyone that fairness is being practiced. Document bad behavior and take appropriate and timely steps to correct it.

15) Consider bringing in a coaching service or individual. This can do wonders for improving performance and boosting morale, specifically in the short term. The best coaches are worth their weight in gold and will make you 10x whatever you pay them.

16) Lead by Example. The people get inspired when their leader puts on the same gloves and uniforms they do and gets into the heavy-duty work. I often prepared food myself alongside our crew. I still help take orders and answer the phone, so if you call one of our restaurants that may very well be my voice on the other end of the line. Let the crew see that the boss is not above the fray, and also let them watch you being kind and generous to customers so they can mimic this behavior.

17) Communication is Key. Keep the lines of communication open between the owners, managers, and employees. Nothing is worse for morale than shut doors and owners who never visit or care about their restaurants. And yet you see this happening in so many franchise locations, where owners drop in less frequently than Santa drops down your chimney.

18) Pay them well. Often in the restaurant industry you will find it difficult to find truly excellent managers or especially fast and effective cooks. When you do find someone like this, pay him or her better than the competition. Losing key team members can be a major blow that is not worth the extra money you stand to gain by being cheap.

19) Hire the Motivated. Motivation and having an upbeat personality is not something that is easy to teach. Many say that it’s not even teachable at all. Hiring people that are already motivated to excel and having an optimistic disposition makes your job as a leader much easier.

 20) Use deadlines. Nothing motivates people more than deadlines. Taking myself as an example, I start out projects with clear deadlines that I place on my phone with alerts a week and a day before the actual deadline, so I can work backwards. Try to be an exceptionality expert and not a perfectionist.

 21) Refuse to listen to people’s limitations. People that are unable or unwilling to walk into the future create excuses. As a leader, your job is to motivate people and give them the tools to overcome their weaknesses. Accelerate growth by consistently introducing new technologies and tools for your employees and customers. Fight resistance with training and consistency.

 22) Set high expectations. You’ve heard many people say this. That old quote of shooting for the stars and you may get the moon still holds true. If you write down goals for every month, communicate them to everyone and give your people the tools to get it accomplished, they will get it done

23) Don’t major in minor things. It would lower morale of the leader of a group doesn’t even know which set of problems to approach solving first. Target the most important things and let the small stuff take care of itself. Focus on team building, food quality, and service.

24) Use Secret Shoppers. There is nothing like objective analysis to tell help tell us what we are doing right and where we can improve. Consider hiring a secret shopper program facilitator to help get your locations back on track. Provide the feedback during corporate meetings and let managers know where improvement is needed.

 25) Use visual aids. The posters on how to prevent injury help the cooks not cut themselves or get a serious finger or hand injury. The counter cards we use show customers and cashiers alike the top selling catering menu items. These subtle things help employees feel great because they make staying safe and performing well easier.

26) Create a vision and mission statement. This is a long-term solution for the entire organization to stay motivated. When the team goes off-course, people can look to these vision and mission statements like a map. And just like a GPS, they will guide you back to the right path.

 27) Be stable. Nothing kills a person’s spirit faster than being around a person that acts like a bipolar dictator. Be consistent, and fair-minded toward your decisions. Reward employees publically but scold them privately. Be a person that shows patience and is reliable.

 28) Participate in charities. People feel great about a restaurant that is about much more than just the bottom line. Participating in charities and fundraisers boosts morale of customers and employees alike.

 29) Hold Effective Meetings. . A company without any meetings is like playing soccer in the dark. Nobody knows what anybody is doing and everyone looks clumsy. Have the meetings be organized with a clear timetable; allow people to speak only during their allotted time, and set clear expectations for the meetings. Email everyone the topic beforehand so they know what to expect.

 30) Hold a pre-shift cheer. As the owner, you are the cheerleader in chief. Hold a meeting before the start of the day and motivate everyone to do his or her best! Have them at their stations and ready to tackle the day by being proactive and having their stations stocked, and fully ready for attack! This is especially true for those days with large catering orders, huge catering parties or charity functions.


The Steve Iskenderian Interview

Steve Iskenderian is the culinary brain behind many of the new menu items at Zankou Chicken. Blessed with a terrific palette, he is in charge of the restaurant chain’s recipes and food quality. Steve studied culinary science at Glendale Community College as at the renowned Culinary Institute of America in St. Helena, a city near Napa, California. Steve is also an avid martial artist, a skill that he believes is immensely valuable in running a restaurant. In this illuminating interview, he talks about everything from cooking to fighting—fighting to be the best in business, that is.

What are the most important ingredients in making food taste great?

For food to taste its best you have to have your recipe right. You have to have a good recipe—something that’s palatable to the masses, the majority. Then you have to execute the recipe—you have to have the right group of people who care about what they’re doing and pay attention to detail. So it’s not just the recipe about a dish but the recipe as it applies to the restaurant.

In order to come up with the best recipe you have to spend a lot of time researching. These days we have a lot of online resources for doing that. But any recipe you find is almost never perfect. It can be a recipe from a top chef and you can make a dish exactly according to that recipe, but it may not come out good. That’s because there are always subtle things that are part of the recipe but are not mentioned in the written recipe.

The most important ingredient I think, overall, for making the best-tasting food is wanting to be the best. You have to want to be the best. Most people who come up with the best food are after recognition of that—that they are the best. They’re not after the money. What’s most important to them is recognition from their peers and from the rest of the world that they’re really good at what they do. Any professional always wants to get that recognition from peers. And the best way to do that if you’re a chef is to have a successful restaurant.

What are the essential team qualities of a kitchen staff?

First, you need experience. You need people who have worked in the business before. That’s definitely the biggest quality. Also important is the desire to excel. Some people just want their hourly pay and want to be gone, but then you have others who want to impress the boss, who want recognition. You want to have employees who feel like they have to prove themselves to you with their work ethic. That’s always good.

Team qualities can be developed by rewarding employees who try hard. You don’t start with the team qualities. You start with the personal qualities that people have, like the desire to work hard. For the most part, the Hispanic population has a really good work ethic. They work hard. Because they came here from nothing and they’re always afraid of going back to that. They’re the ones who also really appreciate the nine or ten dollars an hour pay, which the average American doesn’t.

If you start with an employee who has a lot to offer, he can go one way or he can go the other way. He can end up being the worst employee if you mistreat him—you don’t pay him what he’s worth, don’t give him opportunity. I’ve seen that happen. Or, he can turn into a really good employee because he had the personal characteristics when he started out—the work ethic, the loyalty and honesty—and you (the owner or manager) nurtured those qualities. A really good employee will not last if he doesn’t have the support from the top.

Our dad used to say that the smoky flavor is really important in a kebab. Is there a secret ingredient in making kebab taste good?

There are three things that are the most important for good kebab. Number one is the quality of the meat. Number two is the way the meat is treated and marinated—certain meats have to be cut against the grain, for example. Number three, the way you cook the meat. You could have the finest beef in the world—$100 an ounce, let’s say, or beef from Kobe, where the cow has been massaged its entire life—but if you overcook it, it’s going to taste the same as the beef you buy from Vons or anywhere else. If you don’t cook beef right, it’s over. Chicken is different. It has more moisture and is less likely to overcook. You can still overcook and dry out chicken, but you have a little bit more room for error.

With beef, your margin for error is in the seconds—between overcooking the meat and getting it just right. Thirty seconds or a minute could make or break beef. That’s because when you take beef off the grill, it actually continues to cook, and that has to be taken into consideration. And you can never do this by the watch because the temperature of the fire is different at different times, depending on how long you’ve had it on. If you’ve had a fire on for a while it’s going to be hotter. Besides, the cast-iron in a barbecue is another heating element. There are some new, flattop grills that come with thermometers. But they’re not respected by chefs who know their stuff—who know how hot the grill is from the moment they put a piece of meat on the grill by the sound of the fire or how fast the meat starts to cook. They may be bought by some fast food chains who want to remove the margin for error by their employees. No one with any real restaurant experience will purchase these types of gimmicks.

Is cooking food an art or a science—or a mix of both?

Food is both an art and a science. When you talk about baking, it’s more of a science. Anytime you bake, it’s lot more of a science. When you cook, you’re making something that comes from the heart. The science part of it is what you learn—the recipe, the experience and all that. You heat a dish, you wait till it gets hot, you flip it around once, you check the temperature. The art part of it is what you do that distinguishes your dish from all the other dishes. The right question to ask is, “Can your dish be better?”

Who’s your favorite chef and why?

My favorite chef is the chef who taught me, whose classes I took. He’s not the best chef in the world. His name is Andrew Feldman and he’s in charge of the culinary department at Glendale College. He’s the best because his classes were fun. My favorite restaurants to go to are the ones that only the locals know about. Because there you don’t have the expensive tickets, the long waits, and you’re most likely to go back. If you go to a fine dining restaurant run by a celebrity chef you’ll probably go there once. But look at Zankou Chicken. You could eat there almost every day. The price is right, the food is quick. I’m more interested in the bang-for-your-buck type of places. One of my favorite celebrity chefs is Morimoto, a Japanese chef, an Iron Chef. He has a restaurant in Napa that’s really cool. Mario Batali is really good chef. He has restaurants in New York, Vegas, everywhere. I like his character. I always used to watch his shows. And I loved the ‘Frugal Gourmet’ show too, by the late Jeff Smith. I used to watch it when I was a kid.

Martin Yan is another one. He’s Chinese and one of the first celebrity chefs, sort of like a pioneer. He had his own TV show. His cookbook—‘How to Make Chinese Food Easy’—was the first cookbook that I bought. To this day, it’s the best cookbook I’ve ever had in my life because the recipes in it are so easy. You can easily make really good Chinese food. Chinese food is one of my favorite things to cook. It’s healthy and it’s fast.

The key with Chinese food is to get the heat really high, right?

Yes, you need a special wok in which the metal is very thin. And there’s an art to cooking the food. The hard part is to cook the meat and the vegetables simultaneously so that they’re both done right. What Panda Express does is boil their vegetables. When the meat is ready, they toss the vegetables in and they’re done.

You took a lot of cooking classes; wine-making classes, bread-making classes. Do you recommend that restaurant owners take such classes? How much of cooking is learned and how much is raw talent?

A restaurant owner who’s successful is likely a chef—or there’s a chef somewhere behind the success—who’s already taken classes and doesn’t want to take any more of them. Or, you have a restaurant owner who’s failing and doesn’t have time to breathe and therefore doesn’t have time to take classes. But do I recommend taking classes? Yes, absolutely. If a restaurant owner doesn’t have a formal education already, then they should get one. You learn a lot. I took a course at CIA—the Culinary Institute of America—in Napa. I also took a bread-making course.

How was the bread-making course?

Kicked my ass, that bread-making course! It was a five-day course on artisan bread. I don’t even like baking. Why I took the course I don’t know, but to be honest, it helped me a lot. I know how to spot good bread now when I shop. Every bread-baking company that’s an artisan bread-baking company—meaning they bake sourdough bread and things like that, they usually have a mother starter—a mixture of flour, water and yeast that’s fermented for years, decades. The one they had at CIA was over 50 years old. They’d take a little piece of it and throw it into a batch of bread about to be baked.

They also do the same thing with cheese. The first time I saw one was at the restaurant at the Ahwanee Hotel in Yosemite. The cheese starter there was about 100 years old. Whenever there was a fire or an emergency in the kitchen, the first thing that the staff rescued and spirited away was the starter.

There was a bread company there once that got burned down, and the only thing the owner wanted to save was the mother starter.

You recently changed our falafel recipe. Tell us the story about what happened and why the falafel tastes so much better now.
In 2009 I took a trip to Beirut, Lebanon. There’s a famous falafel place there called Falafel Arax. It’s a little place in a neighborhood that hasn’t changed much in the past 50 or 60 years. And this restaurant’s been there for about 50 years. The restaurant is no bigger than, say, the combined size of three booths in a typical American diner. All they make is falafel. I tasted their falafel and loved it. I came back inspired. I didn’t know falafel could be that good. So I started trying to make better falafel back then. It took a long time. I changed our fryers. We used to fry the falafel in woks. And the reason our father chose the wok was because it heats up fast, and every time you add oil to cook the falafel you have to heat up the oil. So I wanted something that kept the wok hot. And I noticed in Lebanon that the fryers were shallow and wide. I came back and looked for the same kind of fryers and found them. What we use now is a funnel cake fryer, which has a flat bottom that enables the heat to be distributed more evenly.

I still don’t know how they do it. The funny thing is, I made it once and got it exactly how they did it. But I couldn’t do it again. So our falafel is different.  What makes it better is the ingredients we use. We make falafel fresh every day in every single restaurant and it’s fried to order—it doesn’t just sit there. Earlier, it used to sit there for 30 minutes or an hour. That’s the biggest difference. The falafel we used to have were in the fridge for days. That’s why they were so salty. The reason they had so much salt was because they had to be preserved for days. The other difference is that before we used to blend the ingredients in a huge food processor, which used to create a mush. Sometimes there would still be a big piece of something that hadn’t been processed. Now, we grind the ingredients in a meat grinder. So every single piece is cut the same way and the consistency is always the same. And the falafel is crunchier because the texture of material is a little bit coarser. Also, I changed the spices and made them more balanced. There are about a dozen different spices in the falafel. Things people have not even heard of. We also add fresh ginger, parsley and cilantro.

What’s your philosophy of food and restaurants in general?

My basic philosophy of the business is that restaurants are something that are tied to immigrants. When they come to America, the first question they need to answer is, What can we do to make money? And almost every household knows how to make a good dish. So they open a restaurant. A lot of times they fail because they don’t have restaurant experience or the support. They’re missing a lot of ingredients necessary for being successful—and that’s why restaurants have a high failure rate. But it’s funny—the first business immigrants traditionally think about when they come here, to this day, is the restaurant business.

My philosophy from the point of view of food as a business is that it’s very interesting right now because our food tastes are changing. The Food Network has changed the food business. People are more food savvy. In the years to come we’re going to see the fast food chains either going out of business or evolving.

Yes, MacDonald’s is closing 700 stores and Quiznos is going out of business.

That’s right. Because these fast food chains developed when the supply did not meet the demand. There were so many people in this country and there weren’t enough restaurants. Everyone cooked at home. When the fast food chains went public and began to grow, they sacrificed the integrity of the food. Now, businesses that put the integrity of food first are killing these fast food places. People would rather pay a little more and eat good food. Another thing that hurt fast food chains is the calorie count that they had to post on their menus. As of a few years ago they didn’t have to do that. Now, if you have more than 20 restaurants, you have to post the calorie count for your menu items. Who wants to eat a 900-calorie burger?

People also know a lot more about food because of the Internet.

Exactly. There’s that also.

What’s your favorite quote?

It’s by Babe Ruth.

“The way a team plays as a whole determines its success. You may have the greatest bunch of individual stars in the world, but if they don’t play together, the club won’t be worth a dime.” Babe Ruth

You’re a big practitioner of mixed martial arts. What are the similarities between business and mixed martial arts?

I’m glad you asked me that because I think about this all the time. In business, every day is like a fight. And how you perform in the fight has to do with how well you’re trained. As a fighter or a businessman you always have to practice, always have to learn new things, new techniques. There are so many ways to become a better fighter. You have to think outside the box. In that way, the restaurant business is very similar. To be good in the restaurant business you always have to adapt to the changing times. The UFC champions of five years ago would get murdered by the new fighters right now. Part of the reason for that is that there are more people getting started earlier in mixed martial arts. They’re more athletic. It’s a harder game now. And the restaurant business is becoming a harder game as well. If you’re not learning, adapting and getting better, you’re finished. Thank God, we’ve been learning and adapting a lot. I don’t think there’s a restaurant business out there that’s changed as much as we have so fast.

So, every day is a fight, and you’ve got to train. I was working on rice yesterday for three hours straight to make our rice better. I made batch after batch, tasted the rice, and then did it all over again. After you’ve done something like that you feel like a fighter. You say to yourself, “Wow, this is tough.” You need a lot of patience and resolve to be good.

So is the fight not so much against your competitors but against yourself? You’re trying to master yourself.

Any good restaurant is always in competition, whether there’s competition out there or not. There’s always someone ready to come and take your head off. If there isn’t a contender now, they’re on their way. You always have to assume that. You always have to be ready. Just like a fighter, you have to be ready, always training to be the best. The vision I have for Zankou Chicken is to have the best food, to be competition proof. If you expand too much, go too far, sacrifice the quality of food, you’re going to get taken out by the competition sooner or later.

Better to be lean and mean.

Exactly. Better to be lean and mean. Protect what’s yours and be untouchable.

What are your top Do’s and Don’ts for success in the restaurant business?

Number one, don’t open a restaurant because you think you’re a good cook or you have a good dish—the best lasagna. Go and get an education first. Take a few culinary courses at your local community college. There’s no difference really between the courses offered on the community level and those offered by the finest culinary schools. That’s because when you’re starting out you have so much to learn that it’s going to take you a while to get to the point where you’d want to go further in your education. You’re going to learn a lot at your community college.

Number Two: Have partners, so you split the liability and responsibility. That way, you have more help. It’s so hard when you’re on your own. Pick the right partners, obviously.

Number Three: Don’t pay high rent, especially if it’s your first time in the restaurant business. Don’t spend too much money. Find a place that’s already ready to go and doesn’t take a lot of money to start.

But people say that location is everything.

Not when you’re starting out.

What’s a typical day at work like for you?

To be honest there’s no typical day at work for me. Every day is different. I like going into our office to see what’s going on and I like stopping in at our restaurants to see what’s going on there as well. There’s no substitute for spending time at your restaurants. And I’m always working on new recipes—new ways to make things better. I enjoy doing that, and that’s part of the recognition I want. Every chef wants recognition. Every chef. I want people to say, Steve did a good job. That’s all I want. And of course, the thing that drives me is my family. I want to provide for my family and make them happy. I want us to have the good things. I want us to win.

What’s the difference between someone who has a refined palette—someone who makes great food on weekends—and someone such as you who makes food on a professional level?

You used a very interesting term—refined palette. To have a good palette you don’t have to be a professional chef. You just have to have been cooking a long time. I have a good palette, but there are other people, like my mother, whose palette is a lot better than mine. She’s been cooking and tasting food her whole life. When she says something I listen. On average, women have better palettes than men because women have been cooking longer than men have over the millennia. But there are also people with strong palettes are used by companies to taste their products. There are actually scientific levels of palettes.

Can a good palette be turned into a refined palette—or are there limits?

The palette refines with time. It gets better as you go, the more you practice it. Just like a fighter—the more you train the better you become.

Is it advantageous in the restaurant business to work with food scientists?

No. They can’t help. Food scientists are not used in the majority of restaurants. The only time scientists are used when you send wholesale food to labs to get nutrition facts. If you’re in the food manufacturing business—for example you make hummus to sell at grocery stores—you have to have nutrition facts about your products.

How would you define passion from the point of view of food?

For me, passion comes, first of all, from being humble. You have to be humble to have passion. Everyone who’s great at what they do have a certain modesty to them. For passion to continue, you also have to have a sense of curiosity in making something better. You always want to be better. And that’s where I think modesty comes in. You don’t want to think you’re so good already that you don’t want to become better.

I also feel like passion is either inherited in a certain way or developed over time. People are born with a passion for certain things. I know I had a passion for food since I was a kid. I had a curiosity for food and cooking and I enjoyed it. It was also nurtured in me because my family is in the restaurant business. So, you also have to have the right environment for passion to develop.

What’s the best part of your job?

The peace of mind that comes from knowing that I’m doing my best for my future and making my family happy.

What’s the worst part of your job?

Because we’re a family business, sometimes the business gets in the way of the family. We’re business partners and family at the same time. Sometimes we disagree, feelings get hurt, and you don’t want to hurt your brother’s feelings or your mother’s feelings. But on balance, when we disagree, the end result is better because we’ve argued about everything. We’ve covered all the ground there is to cover. Sometimes there’s no escape. You go home and you talk about it. It’s late at night but you talk about it.

Learning how to compromise and not always get your away is another element. To go back to the rice example, I’ve put a lot of time and effort into trying to come up with a better rice recipe for our restaurants. I was thinking recently that my next step is to make a presentation—to make my case for why we need to change our rice recipe. But I thought to myself that the next part of this project is not to convince my family to change the recipe. Rather, it’s to put the information out there and walk away. Never try to convince people. The truth is convincing enough.


Restaurant Lease Lecture

This article is copyright 2015 Dikran Iskenderian. You can share this post on social media but please do not reprint, reproduce, or copy and paste without written permission from the author. Thank You

The Top 30 Things to Consider Before Signing a New Restaurant Lease

1) When the location was an existing restaurant that failed or the owner sold the location to you and moved on, consider that it may have to do with that area not being so great. This puts you in an advantageous position during bargaining with the landlord. Whether it was the fault of the leaders of the existing restaurant or the economic situation in that area is irrelevant. You can negotiate better, and you should use the fact that it failed before to ask for these terms:

a) No charge for the first 3-9 months during construction. Extend the lease commencement date as far as possible.
b) Not paying rent until the doors open for business
c) Rent increases start on year 5-7, not on the first year.
d) The landlord pays for part or all of the requirements to get a new restaurant up and running.
e) The landlord pays for large signage and includes it in the lease, free of charge.
f) Get plenty of parking. The rule is you need at at least 10-15 dedicated parking spots for a busy restaurant. You don’t wantto argue about this with your neighbors later on. If the rule for the shopping center is shared parking for all, get that in writing and make sure they post signs forbidding all employees to park there as well. Here in Los Angeles not having enough parking is a sure way to kill off your restaurant even before it starts making money.

2) Check the area for any damages. If there was a fire,it is usually considered a total loss for the area the fire consumed. Make sure the city’s fire department inspects it and clears it as safe for a new restaurant. If not, the landlord should pay the fixing costs, after all what happened before you came into the picture is not your responsibility.

3) If you are not 100% certain the restaurant will succeed (and how would we know unless we try, right), make sure you include a break clause in the lease contract. This can be worded in multiple ways. Some people write it as a clause that if the restaurant is not profitable within the first 1-3 years, you can move out without any penalties.

4) If the space is in an indoor mall, or a large outdoor shopping center, consider an exclusivity clause. For example, if we opened a Zankou Chicken at the Grove, we wouldn’t want another chicken restaurant or kabob restaurant to open in the exact same shopping center.

5) Make sure the wording of the contract does not overt penalize you for missing a payment. A lease contract for a commercial restaurant can be written in a million different ways. There is no standard contract, so make sure that it doesn’t have writing in there allowing for your eviction within 3 days of non-payment. Your check can default for a variety of reasons, and you would need at least 30 days to get your finances in order.

6) Make sure you hire a licensed contactor to measure the restaurant space with accurate tools. This is common practice, and these experts have the tools of the trade in order to do this effectively. Make sure you get the square footage in writing, and present it to the landlord as an objective, third-party measurement of the location. Often landlords miscalculate the square footage of their property. Sometimes they include exterior walls, and other areas you can’t use. More often than not, it tends tobe in their favor (overestimating how large the space is).

7) Your “Pro Rata” share of expenses is determined by dividing the size of your store by the total size of the property. For example, a 2,000 square feet (your restaurant space) divided by 20,000 square feet (total shopping center) equals ten percent(10%). If you are the only occupant you will have to pay 100%, but sometimes if your restaurant is very popular landlords tend to charge you even higher than the pro rata share. Never let this happen under any circumstances.

8) Make sure you ask to see what the triple net is being paid towards. Do your due diligence and see if the landlord is actually paying his or her taxes. We had one situation where we were paying the property taxes through the triple net, only to find out the landlord was a crook and pocketed the money and ran. We had to pay an entire year’s worth of property taxes, which was over $100,000. It was a disaster.

9) Speaking of the triple net, if the landlord is charging for area maintenance and not actually conducting any real maintenance, the responsibility is on you to remind them to do so. Trees need to be trimmed, lights need to be replaced, and broken floor tiles must be replaced. If you ask the landlord to fix it and he/she doesn’t, this can become a problem. You may have to speak to an attorney and send legal letters unless they fix it. Take pictures, send letters, have witnesses, and do everything you can to build a case.

10) What will the landlord be responsible for? Items that should be addressed include the size and capacity of the HVAC system, the capacity of the electrical system and whois responsible for making modifications to hoods and ceilings.

11) Will the landlord make any necessary changes to have the place be ADA compliant? Have it all in writing. You should get a professional contractor that specializes in ADA to let you know if you need to add a ramp, change the doors, and have a wider hallway or a lower counter. These things can cost tens of thousands of dollars.

12) Make sure you have a well-worded assignment agreement. What if you want to sell the business?If the lease doesn’t have a nicely worded assignment clause, you may have no choice about moving out or you may be forced to sell under the landlord’sconditions. The worst-case scenario is that you sell your own business and the landlord pockets part or all of the money. This is how many crooked landlords have the contracts written, so be very careful.

13) Make sure to include extensions to the lease if you feel the place will be truly profitable.Here in Los Angeles, we often include a 5 year or 10 year (2x 5 years) terms of extension. Make sure the option to extend the lease is not tied personally to you and your business, such that when you choose to sell it, the new owner would also have the option to extend. Otherwise, selling the business may prove difficult.

14) Limit the personal guarantee. If you are signing a 5 -15 year lease, you can negotiate to have only the first 2-3 years under the personal guarantee. Otherwise, having an LLC or corporation will not protect you should you default on your loans and the business goes under. The landlord can come after you for the entire duration of the lease, depending on the wording of the lease and the personal guarantee. Many people assume that just because their business is a Limited Liability Corporation they are off the hook, when in fact they’re not.

15) Give yourself time to do homework before the lease is about to expire. Typically, you should be thinking about and renewing your lease 1-2 years before it expires, before the landlord tries to not respond to letters, or avoid you during this process. It is in their best interest to delay this as much as possible. You need to see the new market rent rates in the area, and see other market conditions like vacancies in the vicinity.

Prepare a lease expiration schedule that lists all your locations, when the leases expire, and which locations have extensions, including how many years the extensions are for. Work backwards and start negotiations to renew the leases least 4-6 months before they expire. I prefer one year. Give a copy of this schedule to your real estate attorney, your lease advisor, and all partners.Remind each other so that everyone can be held accountable. Speaking of lease advisors, you should get one…

16) Use a professional service like the Lease Doctor™. Please read and carefully study the chapter on this, and remember that lawyers are not good at helping you form these contracts. They are good at only reading over them (see#30). A professional commercial lease negotiator will do the heavy lifting for you, and you can come in and iron out the details. They will typically earn you 100x, sometimes a 1,000 x what you pay them for the life of the lease. There is no better investment.

17) Choose a corner location or a drive-through. Many major restaurants and coffee houses like Starbucks are now exclusively signing corner leases or locations that can afford a drive-through. City laws that allow drive-through locations vary, but are usually very strict.

18) Pick your battles. Don’t try to negotiate every detail of the entire lease. You will annoy the landlord very quickly with that kind of strategy. Choose the few,very important details that matter to you most and push for those. It can be an exclusivity caluse, corner signage, a nice patio, negotiating for the drive-through spot in the shopping center, etc. The devil is in the details,but not during the beginning or middle of negotiations. Be reasonable.

19) If you care about certain things you want to take with you at the end of the lease, write it down in the contract. Anything that is bolted to the ground, the fixtures and hoods,all belong to the landlord. Any fixed improvements like tiles and fixed furniture also can’t be taken. So if something really matters to you make sure you make a point of having it in writing.

20) Research the comparable rents in the area and show the landlord. Third party, independent research is difficult to argue with. This does not guarantee that the landlord will listen or bend, but it’s much better than your opinion of “This is tooexpensive”.

21) Have your architect inspect the premises before signing the lease. Make sure that the place is up to code on structure requirements with the city. Any city code requirements and mandatory updates that are the landlord’s responsibilityshould be paid for by the landlord and/or deducted from the lease.

22) Inspect the bathrooms. Every city has code requirements for space in the bathrooms,typically for your handicapped guests. Some cities require two bathrooms, and some are OK with having just one. In older establishments and tight spaces,restaurants used to be able to get away with having NO bathrooms, although this has become exceedingly rare with any new construction.

23) Make sure you have a grease trap. Here in Los Angeles, a restaurant is required by law to have and maintain a grease trap, which is basically a small-car sized steel box that traps grease and doesn’t allow it to flow through the cities pipes,clogging sewers. It usually costs thousands of dollars. If the restaurant has no grease trap, you will be required to create one. Will you pay for this or will the landlord? Even if you will pay for it, asking the landlord to pay for it can be used as a concession in further negotiation. By the way, if you open a restaurant without a grease trap, it will cost you $10,000-$15,000 MORE to doit later because the entire ground has to be removed and dug, in addition to steep city fines.

24) Construct a clean, well-ventilated garbage disposal area. Many neighborhoods are now very well organized, and it’s a good idea to carve out this area in stone and make sure there is a brick wall surrounding the dump. If not done well, vagrants can come and pick at the food or remove plastic containers, creating a mess. Our landlord at one of our locations paid her own construction company and didn’tallow us to do it ourselves. The cost? $17,500 for a simple brick square around the dump. We had to pay for it along with the other renter. So consider this in the lease and kindly ask the landlord to pay for it beforehand.

25) Do a criminal background check on the landlord. This is especially for people you know nothing about. One of our landlords was a crook, who had loan sharks looking for him and a sheriff showing up every few weeks asking about his whereabouts.You need to know whom you are dealing with.

26) Don’t feel pressured by the broker. Most brokers make deals every week, so for them you are just another commission. For us restaurant owners, however, we are in it for the long haul. So always be ready to walk away and act as though you have the upper hand.

Don’t getemotionally attached to the property just because you signed a letter of intent. Always remember that the broker’s best intentions are only to themselves, not to you, since they work off of commissions. That means the higher the rent you pay, the more they make. Depending on their contract they can also make a slice off the deposit and other fees as well. Negotiate the deposit down to as low as you can, because most of us never get that back.

Don’t fallfor lines like, “There is someone else willing to take it next week?” Ask many questions to the broker about the landlord, and when they refuse to answer ordon’t have an answer do the research yourself. The more you know about their positions, their strengths and weaknesses, the better off you’ll be.

Really, well then let them take it. Nothing bothers me more than people who don’t have along-term interest in your business acting like they care more than they actually do. So take your time, play your cards right, and always act in the best interest of yourself and your family business. Let the broker wait. Always have one foot out the door if it doesn’t go your way, which leads me to the next point.

27) Have a strong BATNA. BATNA is negotiation terminology that stands for “Best Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement.” It’s another way of saying that you have many good options. Which bring up another question. Do you have many options?

Have you looked at or talked to other landlords in the area? You should have at least 2-3 other option in that area you are willing to give rent to. If you don’t, you don’t REALLY have a BATNA and this will show during negotiations. You won’t be able to always fake your hand and pretend you have better cards than you already do. Just like in real poker, the stakes here are really high. So have well-researched and measured alternatives.

28) Make sure you can afford to pay the rent before you sign. Typically, the rent should not be much more than 10% of your projected sales. If you expect to make $150,000 per month, the rent should not be more than $15,000 per month. Can you have a place that charges much less but also makes you a lot of money? Sure. You can have a restaurant that pays $4,7000 per month in rent and pulls in $270,000 per month. It’s all in how you plan it, where you open, and how rich the landlord thinks you really are. If you have a strong brand name or are negotiating on behalf of a well-known franchise business, consider opening an anonymous sounding LLC and negotiate under that name.

Walt Disney was smart because he negotiated and purchased miles of empty land in Florida many decades ago. There was were nothing but dead land, swamps, or dry open fields. Him and his brother Roy were buying all this land under anonymous names. Here’s a fun fact:many of those names are now on the windows in Disneyland’s Main Street USA. After people found out that Disney was going to combine all the purchased land together and make Disney World, the prices for all the surrounding land immediately skyrocketed.

Anyway, the point is you are much likely to get a better deal if people don’t know who you are vs. using a well-known name or brand.

29) If you are investing a lot of money in the building, consider a longer lease. A 10-year lease is not that long for a tenant that has spent $800,000 in renovations. For example on our Burbank store, that’s how much we spent. We have a hand-painted dome,hand-made tiles, beautiful lighting fixtures, and a $100,000 glass dome on the patio. That’s not easy to walk away from. So consider doing a long-term lease if this is the case. Cheesecake Factory is known to spend upwards of $6 -$12million on some of their locations, and they routinely sign 30-year leases with extensions.
30) Finally,make sure a qualified commercial real estate attorney goes over your contract before you sign any lease. Make sure it’s not a clown who doesn’t know anything about real estate. We once worked with a guy who charged us $50,000 and made us sign a terrible lease that was still 99% favorable to the landlord.

Some lawyers are great at pretending they are good at something when they are terrible at negotiation and know little to nothing about real estate contracts. Remember,they don’t teach them this stuff in law school. They only teach them how to not get in trouble, which is very different from solid, aggressive tactics you are going to need.

To determine whether they are right for you, get referrals of previous people they have worked with, and call these people up. Ask them questions such as “should I need sublease clause (to allow you to sublet the space to another business if necessary)?”

Should I get a break clause?

Should I add a paragraph detailing co-tenancy (if the landlord has an anchor tenant that is extremely popular and draws in a lot of foot traffic, this clause allows you to break the lease if this tenant is not replaced within a certain timeframe)?

Ask that the lease be put in the name of your LLC and not your name personally. Ask if they know how to structure it like this.

Do they know how to word the lease so that you are not obligated to pay the landlord any legal costs should there be litigation down the line?

Do they know how to deal with a default payment?

Ask the lawyer how they intend to help you make the lease better. If they say you can’t make it better,fire them on the spot. They should find out weaknesses in the contract, outline line danger flags all over the place, and save you from potential trouble.That’s their job. Their job is not to pat you on the back, praise you, and wish you good luck on your restaurant.

52 Ways to Increase Restaurant Sales

Watch the online class videos we created and try to match the order of what I said and the spirit of what I said to this list as accurately as possible. This list itself can be longer but should match that order. Get rid of any repeats and replace them with new methods for the book.

1) The three most important ways to make more sales are obviously the following:

  1. a) Reduce costs
  2. b) Increase Price
  3. c) Add to the number of customers.

Here we will focus on attracting new customers. The method I found that works best is to set it up and have it run automatically on your business card. In my case, I have an American Express Platinum card and I run small ads, social media campaigns, Google Ad words, and mobile application ads all on this account. It’s set up to charge my credit card and is paid by my business automatically, every month.

This insures that we reach people every day, every week, and every month. Just like us, your business needs new customers all the time. Once you automate the system, it works for itself. The results are amazon:

  1. a) a growing social media presence
  2. b) a growing email list
  3. c) more faces in the door, new smiling customers, a happy base of people and a happy accountant because you will (hopefully) become more profitable.

2) Encouraging more visits; a greater frequency of existing customer purchases.

Provide incentives to your core customer base to come back, and come back often. Remember those coupons on Starbucks receipts giving customers $2 off  any drink after 4 pm the same day as long as they made a purchase? That was smart because it encouraged people to visit Starbucks twice. They may have had a coffee in the morning and visited to Starbucks on the way home from work. They may purchase a sandwich on the second visit.

3) Increase overall spending.

This goes beyond up selling. There are many ways to encourage customers to spend more on the same visit. The creation of our catering menu took me over 2 years. Now, we are blessed enough to have many $300, $400, and $500 orders daily. We helped the customer to spend more; and we made their order processing easy.

We used beautiful, bold pictures and a super-easy way to order. It translated to increased sales, happier customers, and a healthier bottom line. The incredible thing about it is it doesn’t take us that much longer to prepare a $500 order than it does the other orders. We work on it while we are making orders for single order customers.

Take care of your customers and they will take care of you.

4) Control food costs.

This goes back to what I said on number one. This is one of the three most important ways to make more money. Increasing price may or may not have a drawback from customers not wanting to spend too much. But reducing your food cost is always a win-win.

Granted, technically it’s not a way to increase sales. Your sales would remain the same. Arguably sales may increase because as a result of reducing cost, you may not have to increase price. So in that sense it may increase sales, but generally this method is a great way not to increase sales but to increase PROFIT, which is more important than increasing raw sales figures.

Shop around for different distributors. See and talk to other beef and chicken distributors, talk to a different dry goods distributer, and find a different produce person. You can use negotiation tactics to reduce your cost. Even if you stay with the same people you’re working with now, you will put them on check. They will think twice before they increase your costs all the time.

Make sure your menu highlights the items that are lower food cost to you, and ones that will increase profit. High profit margins on your menu should have preferable photo treatment and possibly more real estate on the physical menu itself. This will encourage people, subliminally, to purchase those items. For example, a steakhouse probably makes much more profit from the win list than the steak itself. This is why they bring you a huge wine list and appetizers first. Their cost for high-grade meat is very high.

5) Consider a price increase.

In the food industry, we are dealing with commodities. These commodities, things like tomatoes, potatoes, chicken and beef prices, they often fluctuate. Depending on weather conditions, government regulation, political turmoil, and the price of oil, our food costs can increase dramatically. Educate yourself on IBP and commodity prices so you are in a better position to negotiate.

The only way to deal with this is by doing incremental price increases. Well, there is one other way, one which we never considered at Zankou Chicken for over 50 years. And that is to reduce quality. This is what every big box fast food chain has done, reduce the quality of the beef and chicken they serve you, add fillers like protein to the beef to increase its weight, etc. We will never go down that road because for us, our customers deserve the best. You should never go down that road either.

Always maintain the line of quality. Customers will understand that we need to adjust prices every once in a while. My advice is to look at the cost of everything and to look at it often. Always evaluate the market conditions. The moral of the story is customers can swallow a $1 increase every year much more than they can $3 once every three years.

And with the recent minimum wage hikes making $15 and $16 minimum wage a reality in the next few years, more price increases will be inevitable.

One man’s wage increase is another man’s price increase.Harold Wilson

6) Consider having a Specials menu

Having a happy hour menu isn’t just for bars or Mexican restaurants. Everyone from coffee shops to sit-down restaurants now offer some kind of happy hour specials. This generates a lot of free word of mouth advertising and goodwill from customers. It also increases first time customers.

7) Concentrate on creating a sales culture. 

Every person on your team has to have sales engrained in him or her. A solid sales culture encourages the waiters to sell, the cashiers to sell, the managers to sell. This requires constant, quality training. Give employees incentives and rewards for selling by tracking their individual sales on the POS system. Everyone from the cleaning person to the owners much be trained in selling.

8) Write juicy descriptions

You don’t have to be a professional wordsmith to come up with colorful descriptions of your food. You can hire a talented writer or marketing firm to help with this. The words should make your mouth water; the descriptions should make you hungry. if they don’t, consider re-writing them immediately. Don’t underestimate the power of words and stories to increase sales. Words are very powerful.

9) Use window decals

I am not talking about cheesy ones the fast food places use. You can now create high quality graphics on see-through vinyl posters. This makes people driving by hungry. Thousands of cars drive by our locations every day. The right kind of window dressing can make them hungry. Use great shots of your food, and of people enjoying life eating it.  Remember, many of them are driving home from work and are already hungry, so if done right these posters might be the only encouragement they need to pull over and make a purchase! I can hear the jingle of the cash registers already.

10) Do motivational, pre-shift meetings with the entire team.

Huddle the team together and do a small motivational speech in the morning. I have done this many times, especially on days we know we had huge catering orders. The team needs to know you are there and that you care. The team needs to be motivated and they all have to work together in order to make the day successful.

A successful, cheerful team provides a great presentation to the customer. Having an amazing staff can make any restaurant look beautiful in the hearts and minds of its patrons. There is nothing more important than teamwork and positive energy to make a restaurant successful at selling.

Make your motivational speech short and sweet. Keep it positive. When I do mine, I always buy them coffee or sweets.

Remember the pep talks from the movie like Wall Street (Gordon Gekko) or the Wolf of Wall Street (Jordan Belfort)? It doesn’t have to be earth-shattering drama like this; it just needs to be honest and effective at mobilizing the team and increasing morale.

11) Conduct an In-House Brainstorming session

I have been in many of these and they always produce great ideas. This is where you sit in a circle and take turns producing ideas to help push the marketing of your brand to increase sales. There are a few key rules to follow when you do this.

Make sure no one is allowed to say the words “No, can’t, won’t, costs too much, too much money, illegal…etc. Remember, this is not something where the company has to do anything people are suggesting. It’s just a positive and motivating way for the team to participate in marketing. Allowing everyone’s voice to be heard is good enough for me. But when people know their ideas won’t be shut down, they are much more likely to speak and come forward. Don’t negate anyone’s ideas, just give people an equal amount of time and let them talk about their ideas.

You’ll be surprised with the great amount of fantastic ideas that will come from this. This idea alone is worth so much if done effectively. Conduct a subsequent meeting where you discuss the validity of these ideas, vote and agree on the best ones, and write out specific plans on how and when to achieve them. Don’t wait more than a week from the previous meeting to do this, lest the ideas grow cold and die. Keep the momentum going!

12) Do Live Music

Consider featuring live music performances at your restaurant. Just like a nice work of art, good musicians attract a lot of people. Seek out local artists and see if they would agree to perform for free in exchange for allowing them to sell their CD’s that day and pass out business cards. If not, pay a nominal fee and make have them post your restaurant on their web site. Cross-promotions will allow new people to hear about your brand by increasing your exposure.

13) Run Contests

Right now we’re giving away 4 tickets to Disneyland and a Family Meal. Participants have to give us their email, and no purchase is necessary. It’s allowed us to collect hundreds of emails. It was done to commemorate the inaugural launch of our new email program we’re conducting with Mail Chimp. It’s important to have a growing list of emails so you can let people know about contests or other important news like the opening of new locations. Contests are very exciting and provide the following advantages

  1. Amazing word of mouth advertising for your brand; people are excited to win something so they tell their friends and family! Especially if it’s something like a Disneyland trip where they can bring them along.
  2. It gets the fans and customers excited and energized about your brand more than any commercial ever could. Basic human psychology teaches us that people are inherently selfish (they want to win something or get something). This is where we use that to our advantage.
  3. Besides getting the fans excited, it gets YOU excited. Imagine being there and giving away prizes, taking pictures with your customers, and posting it on social media. That’s usually not how your typical day goes.
  4. It’s usually viral on Social Media, where people love to share other people’s victories and celebrations.

14) Pass out Samples

I always tell our cashiers to never let anyone walk in the store and leave without at least trying something. We often pass out samples of our best-selling chicken Tarna™ and beef shawerma. Passing out free samples is always a great idea. If you’re reading this and you own a restaurant in the mall and not doing this, you’re missing out on a great opportunity.

In places like malls or beaches, there are a lot of people that are bored and just walking around hungry. A free sample passed out in this situation can easily turn into a quick sale. You can even up the ante and have someone stand in the hallway, wearing the company T-shirt or uniform and pass it out there. Be creative and adventurous. We once had a person do this in west LA wearing a chicken costume on the corner of Santa Monica and Sepulveda.

15) Invite Charity participation.

We get tons of calls and emails every week about charities that need money, so we created a new program where we help them do this. Local charities participate by handing out fliers and having people eat at our restaurant. In return, we donate up to 20% of the total receipts to their non-profit organization if they can bring over $1,000 in sales.

Think of what this does. It helps student try our food for the first time. In turn, their families and parents are now introduced to our food. In addition to this, our restaurant looks like someone is throwing a party. We have balloons, ribbons, confetti, face painting for kids, and all around happy campers everywhere. This increases the morale of the entire store, makes us look busier to new customers, and more people hear about the program! It’s a win-win because at the end of the year you can use the donations as a tax deduction. As an added bonus, we are making the community better!

16) Offer delivery

There are a host of new delivery-based companies using apps and drivers to help you take your food to potential clients. These include the local company LA Bite (in Los Angeles) and the national brand Grub Hub. Even Uber is joining by allowing people to be paid drivers to take food for restaurants. It’s an amazing and exciting new stream of income we are looking into right now, so it’s something to consider. It broadens your customer base because many people cant drive and want to avoid traffic, especially the corporate clients ordering during lunch.

17) Offer an Express Check out lane for Take Out

This is a much-requested item from this list by many customers. If you have a separate line for takeout, they will call ahead and use it more often. People hate to wait.

18) Offer Online Ordering

Consider using your web site or apps for ordering. The Chipotle app makes this easy, and many restaurants are experimenting with this. One caveat: you have to make sure the company and system you use if foolproof, lest you upset people by getting the orders wrong (or not getting the order at all). So make sure to do all your homework before you proceed on this one.

Also consider, to make online ordering easier, creating an exclusive app for your restaurant. Branding your business is important. Many people now are online and on iTunes and Google Apps, and you have to be where your customers are. One issue with this is it has to be done well. We had a situation where I created an app with a company based in Florida and the app was not functioning very well. The design was poor; the orders were not coming through, and instead of wowing customers with new technology we had upset and hungry people with wrong orders.

I quickly learned that if you want to make an app, it has to be done with excellence. That means it has to be designed well, easy to use, and orders placed on it have to come through. Chipotle has done this well and so has Starbucks, with their newest app update allowing orders directly from your phone without having to talk to anyone. So do it right or don’t do it at all.

19) Consider the Yellow Pages.

This is a must if you own a Pizza place or other delivery-heavy industry. Many people still use this, and many log on to and other yellow-page type businesses such as AOL’s City Guide, ZAGAT, and Trip Advisor. If your area is heavy on tourists, you should be doing this.

20) Upgrade the Décor.

Every once in a while, we have to beautify the atmosphere. Some of our older stores need a facelift. When considering one, think of refreshing and exciting colors, higher ceilings, better acoustics, more comfortable chairs and tables, and big-screen TV’s. In the old days, my father used to say the furniture shouldn’t be so comfortable that people sit for hours because we are in the fast food business. A lot has changed since those days.

Nowadays, people want to be comfortable and the environment is much more important than it used to be. Better-looking storefronts, better signage, and new awnings can attract people like moths to a flame. When people see the new designs, they will love it and feel revived. The business itself will see a jump in sales. The use of trees and plants has been known to add a relaxing vibe to the atmosphere. Also consider better colors, a better menu board (even a digital one), and better bathrooms.

21) Bring in outside advisors

If you are a family business, like us, you have been doing this many years and are often closed minded about new ideas or outside influences. Family businesses tend to be tight-knit, holding our cards close to our chest. The problem with this is, often we become tone-deaf to our own problems and issues. Sometimes it takes an outsider to come in and fix things.

Consider using outside advisors when it comes to how to grow the business. You may be surprised how much they can help, bringing in fresh ideas the family never thought of.

22) Participate in blogs.

Create a blog and write in there routinely. Have a blog on your company web site. Make sure the marketing team is in touch with what is going on the social realm. Follow the trends on Twitter and on Facebook which are usually hash tagged and found on the bottom right corner. Many people may end up reading about your business on a blog. Does your restaurant offer senior discounts or special corporate client rates? Blog about it! People want to know.

We created and run our own blog on our web site now, and we have to come up with a whole new blog post every month. This forces us to be creative and come up with new ideas to post to our web site. Thrillist is a great blog right now, which has already featured us twice. LA Weekly has a great restaurant reviews section, as does LA List on Facebook. I will list my top 20 favorite food blogs in the word document so check them out, get inspired, and starting writing your own food and restaurant blog. If you want to check out my own blog, head on over to The Restaurant Marketing Expert™ on WordPress.; I will post that link as well.

23) Create or fix your Google Places profile

Google Places is catching up to the other sites like Yelp and Facebook pages in terms of importance. Check your location page on Google Places. Do they have the right address and phone numbers listed? Sign up and prove that you are the owner with Google (often they verify this via email or regular mail followed by a possible phone call). This is important so people know all the facts about your location. No other site is as important as Google for people searching your business, so do this right away because this is how Google classifies your restaurant. Consider buying Google Adwords and further up your rankings. for this page.

24) Get active on Foursquare

Foursquare is a great platform where people check-in your location and can get deals and information about your restaurant. You can offer something simple like a free drink or other promo, and every time they check in their friends can see where they were. Increased check-ins to your location will rank you higher to others and increase your restaurant’s popularity. Make sure the info is correct on your Foursquare page and be active on their app.

25) Fix the Patio

The patio is a place where people love to congregate and eat. Here in Los Angeles, we have beautiful weather and since it’s usually so hot people love sitting outside. Many of our customers have dogs and can’t bring them inside, so they prefer the patio and they feel their dogs can sit and enjoy time with them. A more beautiful patio will pay for itself many times over. Consider getting heat lamps, better lighting, better seating, weather-resistant furniture and umbrellas with your logo on them. All of this attracts an amazing amount of passers by and will increase foot traffic and therefore, sales.

26) Create a Social Media Poster

This is where people see how they can find your brand. Make it easy for people to find you on Foursquare, Instagram, and Twitter. Ask people to check in. We are not supposed to ask people to rate us on Yelp (as per their guidelines and recommendations), but you can also have the Yelp logo on there. This can be small and attractive with a nice “Welcome” sign. For example for us it can be, “Welcome to Zankou Chicken”.

Connect with us on ZankouChickenLA (our Instagram Handle) and on Twitter at Zankou Chicken LA and on Facebook at ZankouChickenInc. Notice these addresses are somewhat different. That’s because each social media channel has different name requirements and often times, simply using the brand name was taken by E-squatters. So do the best you can and choose handles appropriate for your business. Increase your online visibility by making it easy for customers to find you where they are.

27) Put Yelp on your web site

We have our designated Yelp pages attached on our web site to each location. When people are visiting our site, our Yelp location that corresponds to that location they are looking at is only one click away. This will increase your overall score because now you are sending your best fans to place reviews for you. Of course, we are not overtly asking them to place reviews for us, however that is exactly what’s going to happen. Having a high score on Yelp is important, no matter what your opinion of Yelp may be (and I know for many of us business owners it’s negative and that’s OK.)

28) Participate in Video-based Marketing

There are many channels where you can make creative and cheap videos, such as YouTube, Vimeo, Instagram (they do videos now as you know), and Vine. The younger crowd is heavily using SnapChat, so if you own an ice cream store, hot wings place, or candy shop consider creating a channel there. People love videos and they love interacting with videos in the social space. If you don’t want to do it yourself there are many marketing companies out there now producing videos for cheap.

Make sure to keep creating and posting videos. Not only will you become a better video producer and videographer, but also you may end up with a hit! You never know when one of these videos may go viral. For example once we had former laker Metta World Peace participating with us at a dodge ball tournament. I took my Sony camera and recorded the entire event, which was to help raise money for his charity. Well, guess what, ESPN ended up posting my video on YouTube and linked it to their web site! They even mentioned it on the air during their live television broadcast. My video shot up to over 250,000 views! I will post that video here as an example. So be creative and adventurous! You never know what’s going to happen.

29) Don’t underestimate the power of celebrities.

Here in LA, we treat our celebrities like kings and queens. But with all the magazines and trash talk about many of our gifted artists, it’s easy to take many of them for granted. As far as marketing goes, it’s important to have some celebrity contacts and make sure they visit your restaurant. Never underestimate the power some of these singers, actors, and artists wield on their fans. Some of them have super fans, and these people will follow their every move and read their every tweet. Try starting small, and follow many of your favorite celebrities’ Twitter profiles. Re-tweet them and invite them to try your restaurant for free, in exchange for a simple shot out. Let the positive word of mouth about your new place spread like wildfire!

We’ve been fortunate enough to be inside a song from Beck, be featured twice on Saturday Night LIve, multiple times on New York Times and LA Times about all the actors and artists that eat with us. More recently Hillary Duff was photographed eating at our north Hollywood store by TMZ. Justin Timberlake, Tyra Banks, and many others have been known to tweet about us and eat regularly at Zankou Chicken. Now are these people better than the rest of us? Of course not, we are all created equal, but they undoubtedly carry jour clout.

My dad used to smoke cigars with Rick Dees. He would help him during Christmas and they would both pass out food and gifts to the homeless shelters in downtown LA. In exchange, Rick Dees would give us shout outs and even once invited us to speak on the air at 102.7 KIIS FM. I was terrified! The point is make new celebrity contacts and don’t be shy from these industries because they matter.

30) Do Customer Appreciation Days.

We did this in 2012, when we reached 50 years in business. We gave away $5 whole chickens, $10 family meals, and other door buster deals. We had lines out the door and record attendance.

The only problem was many of these people never came back. So while I do recommend doing Customer Appreciation Days, I also want to make sure we follow up and do our best to make these people customers for life. That is difficult when they are people that just want to take advantage of an unbeatable deal. Sometimes throwing events like this is great just to generate word-of-mouth advertising and raise brand awareness. They are not great for long-term strategy.

31) Frequent buyer cards. These work great for car washes and juice shops, so why not make them a staple at your restaurant? Not only is this a great way to give away something small and reward your loyal customers, but imagine your beautifully created business card sitting inside a customer’s wallet. It’s a constant reminder for them to visit again and again, sitting beside the credit cards like a permanent billboard. Speaking of billboards…

32) Rent a billboard. As I mentioned earlier, if your restaurant is at a major intersection or beside a freeway this can bring in so much foot traffic it will easily pay for itself in 2 weeks and make you profit for the other half of the month. Go for it!

33) Choose a colorful paint job that stands out from adjacent buildings. This has to be done in a way such that it’s not tacky. Get a designer and make your building stand out! It will be noticed 365 days a year and you won’t have to pay for it like you do a billboard.

34) Create or add better signage. In most cities, signage rules require that only one side be allowed on a building per side of the building (or facing the street). As signs have proliferated signage rules and regulations have increased and cities are making it more and more difficult for restaurants and bars to have huge signs. It’s come to the point that in expensive parts of town like Hollywood or Century City, you have to pay thousands of dollars in city fees for permit allowances on any sign that’s out of the ordinary. In some cases these fees exceed $30,000 or more on tall buildings. For rich landlords or expensive restaurants, paying tens of thousands in fees and building permits is still a great deal if that sign can increase gross margins every month. If you have a wall facing a busy street or intersection, consider adding signage or replacing old signage with much better, well –lit replacements.

35) Purchase web site SEO. There are companies that specialize in helping people find your restaurant on Google. They do this buy placing key words and phrases throughout your web site, optimizing it for Google search engine’s robots to make it easier to find. This increases your web site’s rank, and in theory will also increase sales. Consider which key words to add, and use a web site optimization company to help in this effort. It really is a specialized task so I don’t recommend you try it alone.

36) Revise your web site. I am just finishing up a huge revision of our web site. How long did it take me? Over 18 months. Now why would I work on a project almost every week for 18 months before I even launch a new web site? Because that’s how long it takes. Writing this book was a long process with many twists and turns that took me over 4 years. Was it worth it? You bet. Your web site is your online hub, and it’s very important to make it shiny and looking as nice as possible. I recommend re-designing your restaurant web site every 7-8 years.

37) Create amazing paper menus. Paper menus are like walking billboards. People love taking them back to work, back at home, and often pass them out to friends and family. At the office, people look over them and order together. I can’t stress enough the importance of a beautiful, well-made paper menu. It is vital that it’s aesthetically pleasing to the eye, with multiple photographs of all your food items. I worked for over 8 months on the recent revision of our catering menu. I took my time and re-took many of the shots from the previous menu, sharpened up the descriptions, and added many new items customers were asking for. Just like the web site, the paper menu should be revisited and re-created every few years with new pictures and an amazing new layout.

38) Make powerful business cards that stand out. Business cards are important for your patrons to be able to grab before they leave. Sometimes menus are too large for purses or wallets. Place business cards just beside the POS system. Make sure it has the company logo, the name and phone number of the local manager, his or her email, a map of the location showing major intersections so people can use it for directions, and of course the phone and fax numbers. I would also put a small catch phrase. Right now we are simply using, “Ask us about fundraising” on the business card bottom left. You can also place a nice quote from a third party newspaper or famous source. This increases customer’s perception of your brand and establishes respect in those that do not know the brand well. Business cards are easy to keep, easy to pass out, and easy to hold in wallet sleeves.

39) Place downloadable PDF menus on the bottom of the food section of your web site. I also encourage you to place it on the footer. This is the bottom part of web sites that permeate every page. This will help people, in impulse, to download the menu and place orders. Even if you don’t have direct online ordering this will increase sales because your menu will become easy to find and easy to use.

40) Add a drive through. A drive through permit is notoriously difficult to get, but if it’s in the right neighborhood with enough room for vehicles to maneuver inside the parking area they are attainable. A location with a drive through will beat the sales of one without a drive through any day of the week. Many Starbucks locations have seen double-digit sales increases due to having a drive through. It’s been so effective that their corporate office now seeks out only drive through and/or corner locations.

41) Make up-selling easy for the entire team. Train employees, place posters near the POS system, and use the paper menu to list the expensive items as most alluring. This is called 360 Selling™, where the entire team from the cashiers to the cooks is trained to sell to the customer in a professional and courteous manner.

42) Buy radio ads.

43) Purchase TV ads

44) Use gift certificates to give away to organizations at raffles.

45) Rent booths and festivals to increase brand recognition.

46) Purchase banners at baseball stadiums, basketball stadiums, and football fields in every high school in your vicinity. Not only are you encouraging students to be involved in sports by helping their sports’ program, you are probably purchasing the best “bang for your buck” advertising. The students and parents will be viewing your banner all year, getting hungry, and buying from you whether they like it or not. Put a picture of food on the banner to make people hungry, not just the logo or name. Names don’t make people hungry, amazing food photography makes people hungry. Trust me.

47) Purchase advertising on Yelp. Not only will your competition be barred from advertising on your page, but you will get more hits on your restaurant’s Yelp location page.

48) Put Yelp deals on your page. People already use Yelp every day. Why not put in an offer for a free side, a free drink, or “buy one get one free” (BYGY) wrap? People go crazy for these Yelp offers and love to use their mobile phones to get them.

49) Place nice awnings outside beside the patio. A bright-colored awning is it’s own beautiful sign. Notice how almost all the coffee shops use them, particularly the green ones Starbuck’s uses. Use a color familiar from your brand or logo, one people will easily recognize. A beautifully made awning is like a stop sign for moving eyeballs and is sure to garner attention.

50) Rent a blimp. This is a bit extreme and expensive, but if you have many locations and there is a huge sporting event, there is no better way to get people’s attention. They have no choice but to see your “message in the sky”. Just like what Good Year did to tires, we can do to our restaurant brands.

51) Use coupons and deals like ValPack and Pennysaver. When you do this make sure the deal you offer is not so irresistible that it creates a demand for coupons all the time. You want them to try it once, and pay full price thereafter.

52) Rent a small plane to fly your banner. They often do this beside the beach. In places like Santa Monica and Miami, it’s a daily occurrence. We see famous brands like Bacardi advertised all over Miami, or for buying tables at clubs like Mansion and Liv. Liv is a small but famous club at a resort called Fontainebleau a few miles north of Miami Beach. They use small planes to get their message out to club and beach goers every weekend, particularly around spring break.

One time, I will never forget, we were in Miami when my friend Kevin yelled, “Come outside and look at this you guys are not going to believe it!

He yelled in such a dramatic way that caught me off guard.

What is it? I said.

After we went outside the balcony I saw something I had never seen before: A helicopter suspended above the amazingly beautiful, blue Atlantic Ocean. It was in the middle of an amazing light show it was conducting for a party beneath, on the patio of the world famous Fountain blue Hotel. Bacardi had rented out the entire Hotel pool area as well as the bar. Dangling from the Helicopter was a DJ spinning above the ocean inside a glass cage. It was surreal. We could not believe our eyes. Why would anyone rent a helicopter, have it take a DJ up above the ocean, only to spin and conduct a light show for a few people and the fish? The cost, we later found out, was over $1.5 million. Chump change for Bacardi. It was a sight we will never forget, as long as we live. It was so unique and wonderful, a true spectacle of sight and sound few have ever seen or will ever see.

So dare to dream and advertise in different, unconventional ways.