New book takes practical approach to getting folks in restaurants

“Put More Butts in Seats” by Tommy, Doug and David Engel [$19.99, 123 pages, Xlibris Corp., 2009] features a good amount of well-thought-out, pragmaticadvice on how to differentiate a restaurant from the pack intoday’s marketplace. The book takes into account all of the issues facing the restaurant industry and, with a decidedly optimistic slant, offers pointers on how to keep customers coming back.

The title seems practical enough, and with the authors’ professional backgrounds—Doug is founder of Louis Engel at HireLouie.com, and David is vice president of Sargento Inc.—the book easily could have been written as a dry business manual.

But this is far from that. Filled with quippy anecdotes and easy-to-follow advice, it reads almost like a novel. The examples they use become equivalent to characters as the “personality” of the restaurants are fully fleshed out and explained.

According to the Engel brothers, putting butts in seats really requires “connecting with humans.” It is this connection they stress over the next 123 pages.

Despite today’s economic problems, the book still insists that it is a great time to be in the restaurant industry. The authors maintain that differentiation and inventiveness are critical to success and that the future of the restaurant business demands individuality over replication.

“When you can’t own the price, quality, speed or convenience that have been the battleground of restaurants for the past 25 years,” the authors say, “you better go for the heart. It is something you can still own.”

In that way, the book comes across as more people-centric than just business-oriented, and the Engel brothers advise that individuals must come before the corporation.

“Put More Butts in Seats” is so confident in its humanistic, small-town approach to the restaurant business that the reader might be left wishing these recommendations were put to use in every restaurant across the country. The authors propose hiring local management, for instance, in order to better relate to customers in an eatery’s trade area.

They also recommend allowing for increased customer involvement—asking patrons what they would like to eat rather than telling them what you serve.

The Engel brothers call for a return to the “neighborhood spot” where the food might not even be the best, but where the customer has an emotional stake in the restaurant’s success. They recommend smart and feasible applications of the concept, such as staying away from coupons that “build loyalty to the offer, not you,” and creating a better work atmosphere for staff, which includes serving them meals and listening to their business suggestions.

Any problems with the book stem chiefly from its length and layout. Much of the book is blank space. The copy doesn’t start until halfway down each page, where a large heading resides above short sections and each sentence starts its own paragraph.

The first section of the book, “59 Ways to Put Butts in Seats”, could be condensed down to “15 Ways to Put Butts in Seats” without losing much importance. Though the information conveyed is often sound, it is repeated again and again in each section, dulling the impact and eventually losing the reader’ sattention.

Despite its page length, “How To Put Butts In Seats” is quite readable and might well predict a future trend in which “niche will challenge conformity.” It is a quick read and may give restaurateurs a push towards differentiating their restaurant from the competition.