Home > Uncategorized > What Your Event Should Learn from a Japanese Steakhouse

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.

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Categories: Uncategorized
  1. September 8, 2011 at 2:54 pm

    Jay, nice to see you blogging again! I really like your 2nd bullet above – Give Choices, but Not Too Many.

    That’s a huge topic of conversation that we’ve been having with quite a few associations as they look to improve their major conferences. Instead of trying to program something in every track, for every time, we’re trying to get association profs to thread the content and experience much like a nice 5 course dinner. Often that means offering less session choices, but ensuring that the quality is lights out.

    Most of the Chinese restaurants that I’ve been to can learn a thing about offering less options, but doing them superbly.

  2. 1more4gsus
    September 9, 2011 at 7:09 am

    My favorite point: “Most people don’t want to be serious professionals all the time.” Good to remember.

  3. September 9, 2011 at 7:49 am

    I’m still thinking about #1. Conferences are a time to refocus and reset, at least for me they are. 9-5’ers already spend so much time in bland offices, board rooms, meeting rooms, and if they’re on the road a lot, they’ve seen their share of long escalators and cavernous exhibition halls. Turning a trade show floor into a spa resort might not be the answer, but I like your idea of immersing attendees in the association culture, assuming you have one you can identify and that’s worth sharing. It might take a lot of creativity to stay within budget and not do something just for the sake of novelty. Something unexpected that takes attendees to a different mindset, that helps them turn off one part of the brain and turn on another. I’d love to hear how any associations already do this.

  4. Melissa Kovacevic, Principal - CommPlan Consulting
    September 9, 2011 at 9:26 am

    Great post Jay. I really agree with all of your points especially the “getting participants involved” prior to the event. Many travel boards have forums where people going on the same cruise (they call it a Roll Call) get to know each other prior to the cruise, ask questions of the experienced cruisers and generate excitement about the event daily. Add in some Social Media interaction to the board discussions for the event and you have some great participation in advance.

  5. September 9, 2011 at 10:23 am

    Nice post! Change can be a struggle for many associations (at least that’s their perception). Just this week I was having a conversation with a customer about ways to get their attendees and members involved in their annual planning process and how that can often have so many benefits.

    The associations who I’ve worked with, that include their membership as a part of the planning committee, have more often than not found some creative and interesting ways to enhance their program offering, more readily embrace newer technology options and appeal to their audience, as a whole. Bringing the right experience to any event is so important and having the members and attendees assist in that process can really be invaluable.

    Now I need to make plans to visit a Japanese Steakhouse, because that sounds like a lot of fun!

  6. September 9, 2011 at 2:23 pm

    That is a fabulous analogy. We are so fortunate to have you back blogging. You rock.

  7. September 28, 2011 at 11:23 am

    Hi, Jay. I am sorry I had to wait so long to read this!! This is a great analogy for creating member experiences (and I’m sure could be applied to clients).

    Your post is also a strong example of the intense impression made on people when they participate rather than watch.

  1. January 31, 2012 at 10:49 pm

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