What Your Event Should Learn from a Japanese Steakhouse
I ate recently at a Japanese steakhouse while on vacation. This dining experience caused me to reflect on events, conferences, meetings, and seminars and what they should learn from the model of a Japanese steakhouse.
Here are those lessons:
- Immerse people in the culture- In a Japanese steakhouse it’s in the decor and the artwork and the architecture, the costumes or uniforms, and the signs on the wall. Your brain is sent a signal from the moment you arrive that this will be no ordinary meal out. This signal was so strong that my younger son asked me to take his photo next to a sign with Japanese characters on it as we waited for our table. I don’t know what the sign said; hopefully it was something appropriate and didn’t merely mock English-only speakers. For that time, though, we were in Japan (or at the very least, in the Japan we imagine as virtual tourists). To what measure are you going to prompt your participants to forget that they are in a hotel, a conference room, or a convention center? What are you doing to immerse them in the culture of your organization, its message, and the awesome learning and networking opportunities you’re offering them?
- Give choices but not too many- A Japanese steakhouse offers a few entree choices, mostly steak (thus the name “steakhouse”) and seafood. They’re not trying to be Applebee’s or Cheesecake Factory or any other restaurant that offers you a food catalog when they seat you. I’m sorry, but when a dining companion makes a recommendation and you have to ask what page they’re on, that may be too many choices. Similarly, is your organization trying to be all things to all people? Perhaps it’s time to re-focus on your core competencies, the topics that your members and/or attendees look to you for when it comes to valued content.
- Give people a peek behind the curtain- I think the thing I find most amazing about a Japanese steakhouse is that they take what every other restaurant is doing in the kitchen and they turn it into a show. Now you’re no longer waiting, wondering when your food will arrive. No, you’re watching your meal be prepared. Are there ways that you can give attendees a glimpse of staging areas- literal and/or virtual? Can you make them active participants before the conference? Think about it. Simple accessibility may make the event more meaningful to them. It could also make the meeting a more powerful learning experience for delegates as they gain a better understanding of the inner workings of the association.
- Make it fun, even a little goofy– Let’s face it… the humor from a chef at a Japanese steakhouse is never going to make it to Comedy Central. Even as I write this, I don’t remember too many of the specifics, except something about watching “butter fly”. All I know is that I was laughing frequently. I remember having a good time, watching the reactions of others around me. I will go back. I know what you’re going to say, and you probably know what I’m going to say, but I’ll go ahead and say it. First, I’ll pretend to be you. “Jay, our members will never go for that. They are professionals in the field of (fill in the blank- accounting/dentistry/chemical engineering/neuroscience/rodeos/etc.) They’re just here for the professional growth.” Really?! No… really?! Last time I checked, most people don’t want to be serious professionals all the time. Last time I checked, most people like to laugh. Even while they’re learning. Most people will tell their friends what made them laugh more than they’ll tell them the latest statistic or trend. Just check out what people are posting on Facebook. Most people will come back to events like this… and perhaps they’ll bring one of their friends next time.
What have you learned from a Japanese steakhouse? From a Chinese restaurant? How ’bout an Indian one? Or what about Thai? (Oh, I love Shrimp Pad Thai!) Okay, how about an Asian restaurant of any variety? Please share your comments below or with me on Facebook or Twitter.