Paul Bartolotta is no ordinary business leader. He’s the CEO of a wildly successful company that owns and operates 20 restaurants. He’s one of the most important celebrity chefs in America, having won the prestigious James Beard Award – twice. His excellence has been recognized directly from the President of Italy, and he was hand-picked by Steve Wynn to create the resort’s signature Italian restaurant. Bartolotta Ristorante di Mare, under Paul’s leadership, has won dozens of awards and has been named as one of the Best Restaurants in America. Paul’s direct and creative style has also helped him become a TV star. He’s appeared on Jimmy Kimmel, The Today Show, Top Chef, and Iron Chef.
I had the opportunity to speak with Paul this week, and he told me something that really struck me: He never read his reviews.
When his high-profile restaurant opened in Las Vegas, his team would devour every customer review and rush in to show Paul. It turns out that 90% of the customer reviews were negative. The restaurant was too expensive. Too different. Too bold. But 10% of the customers fell in love. They connected with his daring new concept and were delighted with every aspect of their experience. They got it.
Conventional wisdom would be to make a bunch of changes in an effort to appeal to all customers. Cut corners on quality to reduce the price. Make sure to add dishes that are staples at most Italian restaurants. In other words, the feedback could have lured Paul into diluting his vision to appease the masses. Instead of falling into that trap, Paul stopped reading the reviews and stayed true to his art. Over time, customers who were the wrong fit self-selected out, while word spread to the savvy few who truly appreciated this culinary experience. As time progressed, the reviews flipped. His team now tells him that 90% of the reviews are raving fans. The world learned to understand and cherish his creativity, making Bartolotta Ristorante di Mare one of the top restaurants in the world.
As we fight to build our own businesses, it’s easy to cave to the pressure of the masses. But pandering to the crowd ends up diluting your potency, and you end up with yet another generic offering. The world doesn’t need another commodity. What we crave – and will pay handsomely for – is originality. Bold thinking. Fresh, creative approaches.
What if Picasso watered down his bold art because early critics felt he went too far? What if Steve Jobs catered to his doubters instead of his dreams? To me, this is the difference between a robotic MBA and an artist. While the bean-counters focus on near-term profits, mass-appeal, and adjusting to every critique, the artists stay committed to creating work that matters.
Speaking with Paul Bartolotta, I was impressed with his many accolades, but I learned his true profession – Paul is an artist. And so are you. No matter what business you’re in, stay true to your art. Don’t shy away from boldness. Ignore the reviews. Stop trying to please everyone. Embrace this audacious approach over time, and the customers will eventually form a line at your front door.