This Dish Isn’t Very Good

As consumers, we’re besieged with puffery. Brands shout at us, boasting they have New York’s #1 pizza, the world’s best coffee, America’s favorite car, or the best blue jeans in the universe. But these hollow claims fall flat with our exceptionally well-developed BS detectors.

In sharp contrast, one creative restaurateur took the opposite approach. The owner of Aunt Dai’s Chinese Restaurant in Montreal prefers a more brutally honest approach. Listed next to each item on the menu are ‘owner’s comments’, serving up transparency that will make you chuckle. Here are some of my favorites:

Sweet and Spicy Pork Strips: “I am not a huge fan of our version of this dish, to be honest.”

Orange Beef: “Comparing to our General Tao Chicken, this one is not that good.”

Black Pepper Chicken: “Don’t let the name fool you, this one is NOT authentic Chinese food. True story, one customer got really mad because it’s not so Chinese.”

Beef and Potato Stew: “Because of this dish, I gained at least five pounds.”

The honest comments are disarming, genuine, and unexpected. Instead of over-promising with exaggerated claims, this forthright entrepreneur shares the truth about his dishes. He explains that one dish “is really too dry”, while another is “totally not recommended for takeout or delivery, since it gets soggy.”

With an estimated 65,000 Chinese restaurants in North America, here we are marveling at the one who stands out by doing the opposite. In nearly every industry — from oil change shops to landscape designers to beauty salons — competitors are nearly indistinguishable from each other. While blending in with the flock can be helpful for animals in the wild, the herd mentality can be deadly in business.

Aunt Dai’s menu tells you without hesitation that one chicken dish is worse than another, or that despite the shrimp dish’s popularity, the owner just isn’t 100% satisfied with the flavor. But think how eager you’ll be to order the items that they proudly recommend. The creative menu serves as both a competitive differentiator and also a mechanism to build customer trust and loyalty.

In our own businesses, let’s push the creative boundaries. Let’s reject conventional wisdom in favor of fresh approaches to delighting customers. Let’s challenge ourselves to bust the traditions instead of complying with them in order to generate mouthwatering results.

According to the menu, when you order the Sichuan Spicy Pot, “You may experience numbness of your lips from the Sichuan peppercorn.” Similarly, you may experience a tingling of satisfaction when you outpunch your competition by pursuing unorthodox approaches.