Advice For Restaurants With Food Challenges

It is the American way to reward ability. - Judd Gregg

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This section is LOADED with tips, secrets, and advice for restaurant and food business owners wanting to know how to create a successful food challenge to promote their small business. During the time period that the show Man v Food was real popular, EVERY restaurant in the nation had high hopes & dreams that Man v Food would come and visit them as part of the show, especially those restaurants that offered a food challenge. Man v Food never charged the featured restaurants money, so you can't say that the restaurants paid for the advertising. The challenges were chosen because they had a certain unique quality about them that separated them from all of the others around. The challenges that were chosen were a lot more marketable to viewers of the show. This section is dedicated to helping restaurant owners develop the perfect food challenge for their business so that its marketable, profitable, and most of all... people will actually try it!! After completing over 113 food challenges in 14 different states all over the country, I know a little about what makes a food challenge popular and GREAT. Here are some GREAT tips for restaurant and business owners to think about:

Location! Location!

One of the biggest things that you need to consider is the location of your restaurant. Are you in a big city, suburb, or a rural area? Are there a lot of visitors that come to the city, or are most all of your customers local? These are definitely questions that you need to ask, and the answers may require you to adjust your challenge. If you are in a big popular city, you most likely get a of travelers to your restaurant. If so, you will more easily be able to get by with a larger food challenge, or shorter time limit. If you are in a rural area, you probably don't have a lot of travelers coming through. In this case, you may want to either reduce the size of the meal or lengthen the time limit. As a great example, Philly's Pizza in Marthasville, Missouri has a 50 Wing Challenge (click for video) which is fairly similar to the 50 wing challenge at West End Tavern in Boulder, Colorado off Man v Food: Boulder. The challenge in Boulder, a larger city, has a time limit of 30 minutes. Philly's Pizza is located in a very small town, so they decided to double the time limit, making it 1 hour. SMART!!

Make It Symbolic!!

Developing a really symbolic challenge is a great idea that gives an extraordinary upper edge to the restaurant when using it in their marketing campaign to all of the public. The challenge can refer to a famous person from the area, something special about the restaurant's location, and many other options. As an example, Cookin' From Scratch is located in Doolittle, Missouri right off Interstate Highway 44 which is part of the famous Route 66. Therefore, they created a large 66oz burger challenge called The Route 66 King Of The Road Burger Challenge (click for video). In addition to that, the restaurant allows 66 minutes for completion of the challenge. Another example of symbolism is the challenge at Jethro's BBQ near Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa. They have the Adam Emmenecker Challenge (click for video) which consists of a 4lb sandwich and 1lb fries. Adam Emmenecker is one of the best basketball players ever to play at Drake University, and the sandwich consists of all of Adam's favorite meats. This was the featured challenge of Man v Food: Des Moines. Both restaurants also use their challenge for marketing purposes, & many people attempt the challenges every month. VERY SMART!!

Make It Fun!!

Why do most people do a food challenge? They do them for FUN!! The Stellanator at Stella's Bar & Grill in Bellevue, Nebraska is one of my favorite challenges. It is the only  real challenge that I have done twice!! Stella's B&G is a pretty small restaurant, the food is great, and the staff is very friendly. They have a lot of fun with their challenge. They update their fans through social media as challenges occur, they have an awesome wall of fame/shame (pictured to the left), they have the perfect amount of food, and they really get customers excited about the TOWERING burger with 6 big patties, 6 eggs, bacon, cheese, jalapenos, peanut butter, and more. Media outlets have featured The Stellanator, and its also been featured on CNN!! Stella's Bar & Grill really makes the challenge fun and A LOT of people attempt it... EXTRA SMART!!

Make It Delicious!!

If you are going to eat 5lbs of food, you want it to taste good right? It would be absolutely terrible trying to eat a bunch of food that makes you want to vomit. Therefore, make sure your challenge tastes GREAT!! Don't just throw a big burger patty on a big bun with some cheese & lettuce and call it a challenge!! Make it DELICIOUS and presentable. The challenge meal should taste just as good as the normal menu items you serve. The most delicious challenge that I have had so far is the Double Ultimate Steakhouse Burger Challenge at J's On Main in Auburn, Indiana. Look at that sandwich pictured here!! I bet you are drooling!! Not only is it presented well, but the sandwich tasted soooo good! Even the fries were GREAT!! People order the challenge just so they have more to take home as leftovers. REALLY SMART!!

Price It Right!!

Some challenges out there are WAY too overpriced, and the restaurant does this trying not to lose money. They then find out that nobody wants to try the challenge because in addition to being way too big, you have to pay $50 or more when you lose!! After eating that much of it, not many people want to take it home, which means that it goes to waste and they don't get any value for their money. Your restaurant survives because of your customers. They don't go there so that you can make money. They go for their own enjoyment, and they pay you for that. Nobody enjoys a challenge that is way too expensive. Check out the picture of Unk's Mess, a breakfast challenge at Marge's On Rose in La Crosse, Wisconsin. The photo doesn't really do the size of the challenge justice, but all that costs only $7.75!! Hundreds of people have ordered the challenge, and almost all of them take half of it home. The cheap challenge is a very popular menu item... SMART!!

Make It Unique!!

Many of the challenges that have been featured on Man v Food (Nation) have been on there simply because there is no other challenge like it. Make your challenge unique and people will notice that. This photograph was taken after finishing the 5 Malt Challenge at Crown Candy Kitchen in St. Louis, Missouri. This was the featured challenge of Man v Food: St. Louis in the very first season!! I finished the 5 milkshakes in less than 5 minutes, and then had a sixth milkshake for dessert!! I have only heard of 1 other milkshake challenge in the country, and that restaurant too was on Man v Food. Another example is the Pig Wings Challenge at Starsky's Bar & Grill in Omaha, Nebraska. What the hell is a pig wing? I had never heard of one until I did the challenge, which I am the only person to complete!! Starsky's was featured on Man v Food Nation: Omaha!! What is the lesson of this topic? Build a unique challenge & people will love it... REAL SMART!!

It's Over The Top!!

Check that photo out. That is a picture of the caloric Big Fat Ugly Sandwich Challenge at the Fat Sandwich Company located in Champaign, Illinois. There is absolutely nothing healthy about that challenge. It's a perfect example of being over the top!! The restaurant includes almost every type of fried food it has along with cheesesteak, burgers, and chicken. They throw all of that in between 2 buns and then smother it with mayonnaise. Hopefully you are thinking... GROSS!! Well hell yeah it was!! Haha but over 1000 of the sandwiches have been ordered between the two locations in Champaign, Illinois & Madison, Wisconsin. I was the 3rd person to finish the sandwich which is about 20,000 CALORIES!! WOW!! Another example of a great challenge is the Boonville Bellyache Challenge at Carrie Lyn's Ice Cream Parlor in Boonville, Missouri. It has 16 big scoops of ice cream, one scoop of each flavor that it serves. Along with that you get 10 brownie bites, 2 cookies, and a whole mess of delicious toppings like nuts, sprinkles, chocolate, caramel, strawberries, & pineapple!! It's the challenge pictured at the very top. A lot of people order the Boonville Bellyache just because of how AWESOME it is, especially groups of kids and families. Challenges don't have to be just for 1 person. Serve them to groups & families as a meal... VERY SMART!!

Finally...PRIZES!!

As a restaurant owner, first ask yourself, "Would I eat 4-7lbs of food, stuffing myself to the point of discomfort, knowing that I would not get anything for it in return?" Be honest... your answer is NO!! Well then why would any of your customers do it? If you want a successful challenge, you HAVE TO have good prizes. First things first, "bragging rights" and getting your picture up on the "wall of fame" are not real prizes. To be honest, neither is a "certificate of achievement." If you are going to give a certificate, at least make it look cool, and please frame it. Nobody is actually going to spend the time to get a frame to hang it up, unless the challenge is really famous & well-known. If the challenge is not big enough that you should give it for free, AT LEAST award a t-shirt.

Receiving a cool t-shirt can be fun, and people may actually wear it, giving your restaurant additional advertising. If a challenge is 4.5lbs or above, it should be awarded as free if completed. 4lbs or under, its ok if you don't give it for free, but you need good prizes!! Anything over 4lbs is going to have a fairly low success rate, so don't worry about a lot of people winning unless your challenge is a burrito which is easier to eat. Some restaurants that don't award the challenge as free award gift certificates to the restaurant. The challenge may cost $20 to order, but if you win you get a $20 gift certificate so that you can return later, which brings more business because he or she will more than likely bring friends along when he or she returns. For challenges over 6lbs, you should award the meal free along with a t-shirt and additional prize. The best options are either additional gift certificates or CASH!! Everybody loves money!!

With a challenge over 5.5lbs, the success rate is going to be extremely low, but it all depends on your comfort level. The original & smartest restaurant to offer a cash prize is Pointer's Pizza in St. Louis, Missouri. They have the big 28" Pointersaurus Pizza Challenge which is a 10-11lb pizza. A team of 2 people have 1 hour to finish the pizza. Winning teams receive the $50 pizza free along with $500 cash!! The challenge started back in 2001. One team attempts the challenge per day from Monday through Saturday. That means that about 5-6 teams per week have been attempting the challenge since 2001, each paying $50 for the challenge. Only 23 teams have defeated the challenge since it started. The restaurant has payed out $11,500 plus the cost of the pizzas which are given free to winners, but try adding up how much they have made overall!!

In addition to that, Pointer's Pizza has gotten on both the Food Network and the Travel Channel, and people from all over the nation have come to try the challenge. To look on their website to see the names and locations of the winners, click here. In addition to all that, there have been many YouTube videos created about teams attempting the challenge, which offers even more advertising!! When you offer a cash prize, people are more willing to travel to attempt your challenge because they know that their gas money will be reimbursed if they win. As an example, I have traveled many miles to multiple challenges that offer cash prizes: The Big 10 Pounder at Monroe County Pizza in Bloomington, Indiana, The 28" Monster Pizza at Polito's Pizza in La Crosse, Wisconsin, & The 30" Pizza Challenge at Randy's Premier Pizza in Oakdale, Minnesota.

Big 6.5lb challenges should not be just free, and thats why nobody ever attempts the ones that are. Here are some other prize options:
 
► Naming rights- This is a fun option. Let the person with the record quantity or record time name the challenge (as long as the name is appropriate!!). This is a very motivating prize for a person to try it!!

► Award a smaller gift certificate or a food item once per month for a year. If you have a pizza challenge, try awarding 1 free pizza per month for a year. Or try awarding a $20-$50 gift certificate per month. Get them to keep coming back for more business!!

► As an example, Surf Dogs in St. Louis, Missouri has a challenge called The Big Kahuna Challenge. They served 14 specialty hot dogs on the menu. The challenge is to eat the first 10 items in less than 30 minutes. They had an additional challenge that if you can eat all 14 specialty dogs, you can name and create a 15th specialty dog!! I did that, and got to create my own Randy Santel's Atlas Dog!!

► This is a smart option too. Have the people that lose your challenge contribute towards a "pot" for the next winner. Pizza Haus in Jefferson City, Missouri has an 18" pizza challenge called The Haus. If you try & fail the challenge, you pay an additional $5 which goes towards a "pot" for the next winner. By doing this, they have a prize for the challenge but never have had to payout any of their own money. Over 90 people had tried & failed the challenge before I attempted it. I became the first winner, receiving a check for $450!! Pizza Haus also did another smart thing... after I won, they did not start the "pot" back at zero. They added their own $150 to it just so that they could keep people attempting it. If they had just started the prize back at zero, the challenge would have went dead and nobody would have attempted it anymore... REALLY SMART!!

My Conclusion

As you can see, there must be a lot of thought put into a challenge in order for it to be both successful & profitable. Hopefully these tips all helped get your mind thinking in the right direction!! If you have further questions, please contact me. You may have realized that I forgot to mention one other very important part of having a food challenge... PROMOTING IT!! You will find tips about promoting your food challenge and/or event, along with additional tips & ideas, in my Advice For Restaurants (Contests) section...
 

 

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