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The Casa Bonita Secret To Being A Successful Restaurant

Casa Bonita restaurant, Denver, Colorado

Want to know what makes a restaurant succeed where others fail?  Is it because your food is the best around?  Do you offer customers an incredible value for their buck they just can’t get anywhere else?  Or is your staff so professional, so incredibly well trained, that customers just can’t get enough of your efficient, friendly service?

Well, all those things are factors in your success, but there have been hundreds of restaurants, if not thousands, that have done all of those things relatively well and still failed.  So, how do you identify the key factor that makes one restaurant succeed where another fails?

To answer that question, think back to some of the most memorable restaurants you have ever been to.  I personally have been to hundreds of restaurants all over the United States, Mexico, and South America, and out of all those establishments, one pops up in my head first, just about every time: Casa Bonita in Denver, Colorado. If you’ve never heard of Casa Bonita, it’s a Mexican themed restaurant with a summer carnival feel.  There are games like skee-ball.  There’s a massive waterfall in the middle where cliff divers regularly plunge at least 60 feet.  And, of course, there’s Black Bart’s Cave, which goes behind the waterfall and is full of treasure and dead pirates.  In short, the place is a kid’s paradise, and when I was young, it was the best restaurant I had ever seen.

The place is so unique the popular cartoon series South Park even devoted a whole episode to it (yes, South Park fans, Casa Bonita exists!). To be honest, the food is at best mediocre.  I don’t even remember what the service was like and I don’t care.  And I know the prices were outrageous.  But just writing about Casa Bonita makes me want to go back. Why?  Because you can’t get Casa Bonita anywhere else.  Out here in Colorado, Mexican restaurants are a dime a dozen.  Some are good, some are bad, and many struggle to attract customers.  They all compete on price.  They all have hard working wait staff.  Most have great food.  None of them are unique enough for me to remember, with the exception of the Rio in Boulder, which has the best margarita in Colorado – hands down. The point is that you have to make your restaurant unique.  No matter what kind of food, what segment of the population you’re targeting, where you are located, your restaurant must stand out.  You don’t need a 60 foot waterfall to be unique… maybe your happy hour features the only all-you-can-eat nachos in town.  Or perhaps your patio is lush with flowers and greenery every summer.  Something must make your restaurant stand out. Some restaurant concepts even use rude service as a gimmick to make themselves different.  It’s not about the best entrée in town.

It’s about the atmosphere.

This is not to say you don’t need well trained staff and great food that’s competitively priced.  It is to say that word-of-mouth is your best weapon, and when people think back to the experience they had at your restaurant, are they going to mention the incredible enchilada dish that was better than any they’d ever had before, or are they going to mention the free salsa dancing lessons?  You decide.

About Greg McGuire

Greg has blogged about the food service industry for years and has been published in industry magazines, like Independent Restaurateur and industry blogs like Restaurant SmartBrief. He lives in Colorado with his wife and two sons and enjoys reading, live music, and the great outdoors.

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