The Menu at Babe’s

by | Jan 31, 2017 | Strategy | 0 comments

During a recent visit to Ft. Worth, our family celebrated a birthday with some good friends at the legendary Babe’s in Roanoke. The goal was to get, as our friends called it, “chicken-wasted,” and there’s no better place to do that than Babe’s.

There are no menus at Babe’s because there is only one decision to make – fried chicken or chicken-fried steak. That’s it. No lunch menu and separate dinner menu. No senior’s menu. There’s no diet page and no chef’s specials. Fried chicken or chicken-fried steak. That’s all you need to know.

Everything is served family-style. They bring out a big bowl of salad and a plate piled high with biscuits to start. You can have some or not, they’re bringing it out either way. If you eat it all, they’ll keep refilling it. When the main course comes out, it’s also served family-style. Two in our party ordered chicken-fried steaks and they were stacked on top of all of the fried-chicken the rest of us (the smart ones) had ordered. They also bring out sides – mashed potatoes and corn in big bowls. If it’s not enough, don’t worry. They’ll keep refilling those as well.

If you have room for dessert (unlikely), there’s a pie place next door and a candy shop right down the street. Those are your options. Babe’s doesn’t do dessert. Unless you’d like to put some honey or molasses on one of their biscuits. Because, once again, at Babe’s there are no menus and you have one and only one choice – fried chicken or chicken-fried steak.

If you’re reading this and have never been to Babe’s you might wonder how that could possibly work for them. To give you an idea: we decided to arrive early – about 5:45 – to beat the crowd. There was one spot left in the parking lot and we quickly found an open table. About 10 minutes after sitting down, the line outside formed and then grew. It’s not unusual to wait for up to sixty minutes to get a table during normal dinner hours.

Babe’s doesn’t succeed in spite of their menu, but because of it. Less is More is a well-worn cliché, but Babe’s is proof that it does work. They have a few things that they do and they do those few things really, really well. Eating there reminded me of a conversation that Jerry Seinfeld and Will Ferrell had during an episode of Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee. They stop for the traditional coffee and as Ferrell is perusing page after page in the colossal menu he offers up, with a heaping spoonful of sarcasm, “I like a place with a lot of items on the menu. Because you know they do them all… beautifully!”

Countless businesses – not exclusive to restaurants – make the error that more choices are better. More often than not, that theory is wrong. Study after study has shown that too many choices hamper the typical consumer’s decision-making process. I’m sure as you read this you recall an experience where a tidal wave of choices overwhelmed you and initiated shutdown mode. Successful businesses strive to keep it simple, keep it good, and keep it memorable.

Babe’s has eight other locations outside of the original Roanoke location. Those locations have an expanded menu, but keeping with the spirit of simplicity established in Roanoke, add only three more main dish choices and a handful of dessert options. But even with these additional locations there’s a difference between them and the original. The food is as good, but anyone who has eaten at one of these will tell you, you have to go to Roanoke for the true experience. The other locations have great fried-chicken and service, but for fans of southern comfort food, Babe’s in Roanoke is more than just great food, it’s a pilgrimage.

Most businesses could benefit from this kind of approach. Where in your business could you cut the number of decisions the customer needs to make in half? Down to three? To one? Instead of spending resources (both time and money) creating more choices, use those same resources to make the few choices you present both memorable and great.

Speaking of making better choices… while I try to always practice what I preach, business-wise, I wish I had done followed my own advice on the gastric-side instead of the “more is more” plan I followed that evening. I’m confident that as I waddled out the door, teetering past the long line waiting to get in, brushing fried chicken crumbs from my beard, my BCC (blood chicken content) registered a solid 0.12. I had fully achieved the goal of getting chicken-wasted.


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