The Big “But”

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Summer 2016 and a friend and I are wandering the streets of a popular LA tourist area on a HOT summer day… the kind of sizzler that sends you diving for the shade. So when my lady friend spies a sign for a rooftop restaurant in a classic 1930’s Hollywood Hotel, we veer into the lobby and up the elevator.

It was a gorgeous space. Barstools facing out on expansive views of skyline and double digit drink prices, even for soda. But, at that point, we didn’t care. We just wanted a shaded place to sit with a cold drink.

looked amazing, and we were delighted to find that they had a special: any 3-courses on the menu for just $30.

I don’t know about you, but when I eat out with friends, we like to do it “family style”, and order lots of different stuff so we can try as much as possible. So we were in 7th heaven as we carefully chose our dishes together.

A waitress arrived to take our order, shook her head and pointed to some small print at the bottom of the menu that read: “THE MENU IS AVAILABLE ONLY IF OPTIONED FROM ALL DINERS AND WITH SAME DISHES.”


Apparently, that meant that all diners MUST order the same 3 dishes.

Genuinely confused, I asked the waitress – “Why would you give us this incredible option of choice, then take it away with fine print like this?”

She frowned, and without actually answering the question, said she’d get the manager to come and explain the policy. (I don’t think we were the first to ask.)

A few minutes later the manager appeared — a pompous man with a rich voice that made love to each syllable.

– “Yes. You must both order the same 3-dishes. That is the policy.”

Me: “Why can’t we each order the dishes that we want? Why do we have to eat the same thing?”

– “I’m sorry sir, but you can’t do that. The entire table must order the same dishes.”

I was on fire now — “OK. What if we eat at different tables and pretend that we don’t know each other?”

– “I’m sorry sir, but we can’t do that.”

As for me, I couldn’t help but wonder why they create an amazing offer that gives us choice, then take that choice away? It felt like the kind of policy that made sense to someone, somewhere, years ago, in another context. But in that moment — it was simply absurd.

I went a few more rounds with the manager and finally the guy had had enough.

– “Sir, there is always a but. With every offer, there is always a but. This is our but.”

“Fair enough — and here’s my but: we’d really love to eat here… BUT…. your policy is stupid.”

It was the height of summer in Hollywood, the streets were full of tourists, and this gorgeous restaurant with top-notch food and drinks was a virtual ghost town. As we paid for our sodas and walked out, looking into the kitchen, I noticed 5 chefs in impeccable white uniforms standing around with their arms crossed. Nothing to do.

This restaurant had what I like to call “a big but”. A stubborn way of doing things that was keeping them from serving their customers in the fullest way possible.

What’s worse, they were proud of their big but, and clearly took every opportunity to defend it proudly. Meanwhile, their profits and sales were going downhill because no-one bothered to ask, “What if we didn’t have to have a big but?”

It just made no sense, and the moment has stayed with me ever since, as a powerful business lesson.

We left the hotel and immediately found another restaurant down the street that offered tasting menus. We poked our nose in and asked if we could order different menus and they said, “Of course. We don’t require whole party participation.” No big but, and the restaurant was packed.

Does YOUR business, whatever it may be, have a big but?

Does what are you doing that may make sense to you, but not to your clients? If so — how could you get off that but and start building a business with your customers’ best interests at heart?

I guarantee that both you and your customers will notice the shift.

Want more ideas for how to build a business and products without a big but? If so, stay tuned, because in the next few weeks I’m going to share some ideas for how you can create products based on “and” not “but”.

To Your Success


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