Lessons from the #1 Restaurant in America (According to Yelp)

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Lessons from the #1 Restaurant in America (According to Yelp)

The Unconventional and Unintentional Marketing of Tony’s Deli

Earlier this year, Yelp released their rankings for best places to eat in 2017. You may have seen it already, but if you haven’t, it’s worth checking out. There are some interesting observations to be made on the list. For instance, about half of the restaurants have only been open two years or less. Many of them seem commonplace and unassuming.

Over the last few years, Yelp began giving more weight to the quality of it’s reviews over the quantity. Nearly every restaurant now on the list averages fives stars for it’s ratings, or very close to it. In year’s past, it was common to see restaurants with thousands of reviews and pretty good ratings (4.5 stars or better) making the list. Some of those got bumped off the list as Yelp began listening more intently to how customers think and what drives these smaller businesses.

As such, there were some surprising names on the list, including the restaurant that beat out everyone else: Tony’s Deli in Montgomery, TX.

The tiny sandwich shop nestled along the busy Highway 105 near Lake Conroe is run by Hootie and Mary Trant. If you live around the area, then you already know about Tony’s. If you are local and you don’t know about Tony’s, you’ve been living under a rock. It’s a place that people talk about…a lot. If you’re hungry, it’s never a bad option.

Let’s look at what makes them stand out. Here are 4 key lessons we can learn from Tony’s Deli.

1. It’s not about profit. It’s about people.

Browse the menu for Tony’s and you’ll notice something. Every sandwich is $8.95. Eat a sandwich from Tony’s and you’ll notice something else: the sandwiches are huge, packed (literally) with high-quality meats and cheeses and other ingredients, and they’re made with fresh bread. In fact, everything is fresh every day. Each sandwich is served in a to-go container straight from the counter. Why? Well, more than likely, you won’t be able to finish the whole thing in one setting.

You may have realized it by now that all those things could make each sandwich expensive to make. And it’s true. Tony’s could easily change $15 a sandwich and still do well, but their price is reflective of their values. The customers matter, and each one deserves the best sandwich they’ve ever eaten. That sounds like a lofty goal, but according to the reviews, that’s exactly what’s happening.

Although the profit margin is extremely small, the value they provide is part of what set’s them above every other restaurant (literally). Tony’s has had their fair share of offers for franchising and expanding, but they don’t bite. They want to keep the personal approach and attention to detail. It’s not about money. It’s about people.

2. The best marketing is the best sandwich.

People rave about Tony’s sandwiches. ALL of the sandwiches. Read through the reviews on Yelp, and you’ll see mention of nearly every sandwich on the menu – all rave reviews. Each sandwich they make is impeccable. They don’t have one signature sandwich because every sandwich is their signature sandwich. That’s their approach, and it’s not just their opinion – it’s everyone’s opinion. Word of mouth, the best marketing there is, spreads like wildfire when it comes to Tony’s.

Tony’s doesn’t have a typical marketing plan. They aren’t flashy. They don’t advertise much. But, they don’t have to. Everybody who comes advertises for them. Many other restaurants have heavy marketing campaigns that point people toward average food. Tony’s does the opposite. They have the BEST food. That’s their focus. Growth happens when you exceed customer expectations over and over again, not when you over promise and under-deliver.


3. Love what you do.

Come into Tony’s on any given day and chances are you’ll see Hootie and Mary, the owners, working away serving their customers. They’ve been there since Tony’s opened and they aren’t going anywhere soon. Hootie, a law enforcement officer in Conroe, started the restaurant with his wife’s encouragement. It’s simply what he loved to do – make delicious food for people.

That’s still his vision. If you can catch them during a slow time (good luck) and meet them, you immediately see the passion and joy they find in making sandwiches. They weren’t looking to make any lists of best restaurants (much less be at the very top), and that’s part of the reason they did. They love what they do, plain and simple. They aren’t driven by profits or reviews; they are driven by passion, people, and sandwiches.

4. Love who you serve.

“At our little deli, our customers are our family.” – Hootie Trant

Tony’s thrives in Montgomery, Texas because it’s “home”, and, to the owners, the people there are considered family. Hootie and Mary left Houston to move back to Conroe, where Hootie is from. They love the community. They aren’t looking to move any time soon.

Head over to the reviews again and you’ll notice something even more surprising. Nearly every review has a comment – from Hootie himself.

It’s easy to see – they care.

Many of these “unconventional” marketing traits are actually much more conventional and evergreen than we think. In a world of social media, digital funnels, sales pitches, and shiny lights there are still tried and true ways to stand out.

Whatever you make, make it well. Whatever you do, do it well. Whoever you serve, serve them well.

Thanks, Tony’s Deli.

Now, let’s all go get a sandwich.

Brian Sherman
Brian Sherman
Brian Sherman is an author, entrepreneur, husband and father. He is the Lead Writer and Content Manager for Voixly, a Texas-based Digital Marketing Firm. He authored the book, For Real This Time, and writes for several publications online on the topics of personal development, marketing, and entrepreneurship.

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