A restaurant for rule-breakers

Philip Morgan

(Readin' time: 2m 37s)

At some point in history, someone broke the rules and ate a meal in their car. At some later point, Sonic set up a restaurant specifically designed for just these kind of rule-breakers.

Think about it: cars haven't been around nearly as long as food has. This means that humans have had a looooong time to normalize how we relate to food. Those norms did not allow for eating in cars. At first, this was because cars didn't exist. Then, for a transitional period, eating a meal in a car would have been super strange.

The reaction would have been something like this: "Can't you eat the right way? Is something wrong? Did you fail to plan properly for your body's need for nourishment? Can you not afford to do this the right way? Were you freaking raised by wolves?"

Now, something like 20% of meals in the USA are consumed in a car. This is not a mainstream activity, but it's also no longer a strange, fringe activity either. That 20% number is a percentage of all meals eaten, not a percentage of people who have eaten a meal in a car. I'd put the latter percentage at much closer to 70 or 80%.

But that's a culturally-specific number. German cars have cupholders that are tiny compared to most American cars because there's an assumption that you won't be downing Big Gulps while in the car. I read but haven't verified that cars made for the Japanese market have no cupholders at all for the same reason: what kind of animal would eat or drink inside a car?

Then on the complete other end of the spectrum, we have Sonic, the restaurant that is 100% geared around the idea that you will eat the meal you buy from them in your car.

Sonic doesn't just provide the option of eating the meal in your car. It doesn't just have a drive-up window around the back side of the restaurant. Sonic sets its priorities in concrete. Literally!

The entire restaurant is built around the idea you will eat the meal you buy from them in your car. Wood, steel, and concrete are deployed around this choice.

A Pizza Hut can be repurposed as lots of things, including a church, police headquarters, dentists office, Mexican restaurant, or Chinese restaurant. A Sonic restaurant? Not so flexible in how it can be repurposed later! This is a risk for the investor.

What about your services?

Are they for rule-breakers? Or are your services for those who do things the traditional way?

Are they for the 20% that can't spare the time or other form of cost that "eating a leisurely meal in a sit-down environment" would entail?

Are your services designed with the assumption that your initial decisions about who they're for might be wrong and you'll need to "repurpose" them later? Or are they created with a level of confidence that allows you to "deploy wood, steel, and concrete" in their design?

I get excited about services that are designed for the rule-breakers and executed with a level of confidence that avoids hedging. I like "Sonic restaurant services".

But those kinds of services aren't easier to create. They require a sensitivity to what's happening in the broader context the service fits into. They're riskier.

And these kinds of services aren't the only services you can offer. You can design and offer services that are ideal for the mainstream. In fact, this might be the better choice for you.

What matters is your intentionality in designing the service. A Sonic restaurant with a big indoor seating area and outdoor parking isn't really a Sonic restaurant.

It's a compromise.