If you want to check out the hottest new restaurant in Manhattan you might find it more difficult than imagined. The newest, Momofuku Ko, has almost instantly begun drawing the rich, powerful and influential trying to land a reservation the easy way. They appealed to the chef. So far, they've had little luck.David Chang, the owner of the hot spot, even turned downRuth Reichl, editor-in-chief of Gourmet Magazine. He said no. A former top Microsoft executive asked too. Same answer: Nope. Chang even shut down a top New York chef. Can't do it, he said."I've said no to a lot of people," Chang said. "We are not making exceptions. If my parents want to eat there, they have to make a reservation too. It's really quite simple. If we do it for one person, we'd have to do for everybody."Chang and his chef-partner have set up a special web site where, if you want a reservation, you have to visit and hope that you will be able to obtain an online reservation by clicking at the ‘right time’ on an empty space on the bingo-like grid on the site. This is after you have registered and entered your credit card. Seats are released at 10 a.m. everyday for the current seven-day period. There are only 12 seats available in the restaurant and the prix fixė is a flat 85 bucks. It's meant to level the playing field in a city where money and prestige usually ensure access. "It's egalitarian," he says. "We want to run something honest." (Personally, I would label this “egalitarianism for the elite” but that would be an oxymoron for morons.)As a marketing strategy and set of related tactics, I can see where Chang is coming from. First off, he had to build a business in a very small 650-square foot space, thereby leaving room for only 12 seats. The rent was likely astronomic, so he had to charge like the light brigade for his menu. Chang said he set up his own online reservations system in part, because his place is so small. Additionally, he said, he didn't want Peter Serpico, the chef and partner at Ko, wasting his time "trying to play favorites."Chang apologizes for any grief he has caused. "It wasn't the intent to make people frustrated," he said. "It was just something we thought would be easier. Why would we need a phone? People have the ‘Net. At the end of the day, it's a silly reservation system. But we have to be straight up. We are trying our best to make some sort of system work that is not corruptible." (Yeah, right.)If you’ve been reading my posts, you know about the Unique Selling Proposition, that very crux of excellent and profitable marketing. This is a classic case of high demand (this chef’s reputation, combined with the fancy folk and their wanting to see and be seen) with low supply (e.g. number of available seats); combined with a unique new system of taking reservations. This essentially is the “unique” part of the equation.Next, he was innovative and became the first to use the Internet in this manner, whereby the ONLY way you can make a reservation (and we mean the only way) is online almost by the luck of the draw, like a lottery. You have to break your butt just to give him your money! He has first mover advantage in this and is therefore preemptive....for a while until the copy-cats come out.Differentiating yourself in a preemptive way is the heart of your U.S.P.The only area where this may come back and bite Chang in the butt is repeat business. Heck even the restaurant reviewers, who normally take three different visits before writing their analyses and reviews, are giving up going through the hassle and are writing their reviews after just one visit.Can you imagine the “buzz” this is creating? You’re reading it now here....all over the world!Then, again, NYC is such a densely populated trading area, and with only 12 seats, Chang just might be able to survive just fine with a constant turnover of new diners each day. One thing for sure: the food and service better be beyond belief!©R.W. MacNaughton, 2008
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  • Thanks, David, you are absolutely right.

    Toronto -- and particularly Vancouver -- in Canada, have boasted a wealth of great noodle bars for years.

    I think it's just that finally, they are catching on with the mainstream population; just lke Mexican food did in the northern states and provinces -- especially the Chicago area -- years ago.

  • All excellent things he has done, but isn't a key part of this story the actual product being sold? Noodle bars, I think, are poised to be the next sushi for the American consumer. Already Los Angeles and the Bay area have a strong showing with NYC now coming along. In LA, a blog named rameniac covers the scene as well as offering a bit of history on the various regional ramen styles in Japan.
  • Yes, Randy, this one really takes "cojones" !!

  • I love it, Roy... that's the way to build mystique; if, of course, you have the goods (and the cojones) to do achieve it! Good lessons for all of us...
  • Yes, Diane..... I wish I had thought of it myself!

  • I love the idea. It's fair, he doesn't have to pay someone to answer the phone, and I'm sure if people no show they get charged some kind of cancellation fee. Then the slot automatically opens for the next person? Sounds highly efficient and free of political hassle.
  • Willis:

    I rest my case.

    For "buzz" creation, this has to be one of the best!

    p.s. Chang has two other similar restaurants in his
    'group' so the idea is if you can't get into this one, you'll at least try one or both of the other two which I understand do not have the lottery-Internet method of getting a reservation.
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