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Marketing, Education and the Wooden Monkey

For most of us, there’s an incongruency in our business. There’s an inconsistency between how great we are and what people know.

In Halifax, Nova Scotia there’s this great restaurant called The Wooden Monkey. The woman who runs it, Lil McPherson, is one of my favorite people in the world. She is a really passionate lady and the restaurant is so cool.

But what was interesting was I didn’t really realize how cool it was until I had been there for a few weeks and I was overhearing things. Like, some of their tables were cross sections of trees that had been knocked over during Hurricane Juan when it came over, a whole bunch of trees and Halifax got just taken out.

But they took them, salvaged them, turned them into tables and used them as some of the wood in the restaurant, which I thought was just great. They don’t serve anything that’s grown more than 500 kilometers from the restaurant. They don’t serve any Coke or Pepsi, hooray!

It’s all Propeller stuff which is made like two blocks at a factory. It’s mostly organic. Everything they can do, it’s just there were so many incredible things about this restaurant, that it took me a while to find out.

Here’s some other things Lil told me about the Wooden Monkey with a bit of digging . . .

STAFF: The main Criteria is a positive attitude and respect for there own health and our customers. But our strength is our staff being very informed about our food and caring about the planet. When we hire on our new staff they have to be on board with our values and eager to learn new food items, and what these foods can do for their health. But, there is a lot to know at this restaurant. We have so many very different ingredients and have developed a 50 part questionnaire on all different veggies, teas, seaweeds, etc. and parts of the restaurant, from food to the construction of the restaurant which all staff must take after 6 months…. to see how much they know about everything. In this way we can ensure that all of our staff have the answers our customers want – at their fingertips. What it was built with? Where do certain foods come from (what farm)? What is Kombu, Bancha tea, etc, and what does it do? Our food is not only great, but some of the ingredients are healing for sure. I have just started a library of DVD’s about the environment for the staff to watch.

SERVICE: Service is everything and we feel we work very hard on this, because this to me is the very heart of your business period. I believe and strive to go the distance for our customers to have the best experience, which always means a good meal and excellent service… but it’s when things go wrong that we have the opportunity to rise to the top and over compensate the customers. This is a very important part of making a bad situation into a great one, and having your customers leave feeling great.

LOCAL AND ORGANIC: We are focused on providing local and organic food, while offering fair trade organic coffee, locally brewed beers and wines. We use only Nova Scotia farm produced free-range meats, beef, chicken, port along with organic grains, flours, raisons and locally grown organic veggies. By using locally grown organic produce we not only ensure the quality of the food we serve is so far as this is possible, but we provide material support for the local farmers who share our commitments to human health and the environment.

SMALL PRODUCERS: Back then I decided that I was going to focus on buying from smaller producers, choosing to stay way from the traditional large soft drinks company’s, large multi food suppliers etc. Instead we choose to serve locally make root beer, other local sodas, real Nova Scotia cranberry, blueberry, and apples juices as well as homemade lemonade.

LOCAL ARTISTS: By providing a venue for local artists (we hang their art on our walls which makes our restaurant look beautiful and sell them for no commission which makes them money) and musicians  (who play their locally grown music over dinner) we hope to also contribute to the cultural life of Halifax in which we have both been involved for many years.

HEALTHY FOOD PREPARATION: We don’t use any microwaves or deep fryers. There is no processed food at all in our restaurant. Everything you eat was made from scratch, and always will be (even our mayo – using maple syrup as our sugar!)

ENVIRONMENTAL: We use environmental cleaning products, toilet paper, biodegradable take out containers, cups, forks, knifes, we use recycling napkins, papers towels, etc…

EDUCATION: We are trying to educate the public on how very important it is to our future food supply to support our local, and organic agriculture. I am myself  have been doing talks about what we are doing at the Monkey in University’s, schools, women’s groups, etc…I love the education part of the Monkey!

Does it work? When I last spoke to them in early 2008 they were thriving. They’d been selected as one of Halifax’s best new businesses. The Wooden Monkey had been featured on television, radio, local and national newspapers and several magazines. Says Lil, “There have been at least fifteen articles written about us and just recently we were mentioned in the book written by Jo Wood, the wife of Ronnie Wood of the Rolling Stones. Her book is called “Naturally” and it’s a great book about organics – we are on page 42.

But the point is this: I had to dig to find out those things. Your clients should not have to dig.

A lot of us, we’re so close to our businesses that we sort of assume that people know these things, and they don’t. In a restaurants case, the thing I would encourage every restaurateur to do is, when somebody comes in, sit at the table and the waiter comes up. The first question out of the waiter’s mouth should be, “Welcome. Is it your first time here?”

If it’s their first time there, there should be a little one or two minute welcome talk that they get. You know, “Welcome to The Wooden Monkey. It’s so wonderful to have you. We always like to give a little bit of a welcome introduction to our restaurant so people can know a bit about it.

And just tell them. Highlight all the great, wonderful things that they would have no way of knowing otherwise. In the menu have a page where it really tells the story, bullet points, flags the things. You could have bios and photos of the wait staff and servers there.

The key is we’ve got to educate people about the value of what we do. Sometimes, for some of you, it’s not going to be, you already have an irresistible offer. It may not be that there’s anything that you can add or change. It’s just that you are not articulating and educating people as to the value of what you do.

Marketing, if I had to sum it up in one word, is education. Education, if I had to sum it up in a sentence, I would say what a guy named Mac Roth said which is, “Marketing is about establishing the value beyond the immediately apparent.”


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