Another Lesson for Indies: “Restaurant, you have one chance to impress me.”

A new restaurant opened up in my neighborhood quite a few months ago. From the outside it is attractive, a cafe-throwback, a large outdoor blackboard with a hand-written “Open” sign, a large stack of firewood neatly arranged into the exterior of the restaurant, and attractive indoor and outdoor seating. Even the signboard was well designed with fonts that popped out, easily pulling in the attention of passerbyers. The initial reports about food quality I heard from several people was not so complimentary, so I decided to skip trying it and stuck to the tried and true.

Over the course of several months, I heard a few good things about the restaurant, still mixed with some negative opinions. But yesterday, as I found myself alone for lunch and most of the other restaurants around were closed for Chinese New Year, I decided to give it a try. I realized up front what I was doing – I was giving them the benefit of the doubt that had been sowed in my mind. They had one and only one chance to turn those negatives around and make me a believer and a loyal customer.

One chance. Were they up to the challenge?

First, the ambiance was nice. The walls were decorated with some beautiful photographic art which was actually for sale for rather exorbitant prices. But I wasn’t there for the art. It’s all about the food.

The prices were do-able, not the cheapest, but they were reasonable enough.

What to order?

For me, when testing a restaurant here in Malaysia, it’s all about the hamburger. If they can make an excellent hamburger then I know I can trust them with other food. It’s not difficult to make a great burger IF you start with great ingredients. And that’s always the issue here in Malaysia. Most of the beef just isn’t tasty. It’s dry, boring, and tasteless.

So I ordered the cheeseburger and waited. It wasn’t too long when it was served on a round wooden platter. The presentation was quite appealing, actually. They had obviously put some thought into their restaurant design and experience.

But as we all know, all of that stuff – the presentation, the ambiance – is peripheral. I would know within one bite whether I would ever go there again. They had one bite to prove to me that their food was worth my money. One chance.

I took a good healthy bite and I knew immediately that I wouldn’t be back at that restaurant again. Why? They had shirked on the quality of the beef. It was dry, boring, and tasteless. I finished the meal, paid, nodded my appreciation to the waitress, and walked out knowing that they unfortunately didn’t earn me as a customer.

I think any indie author can see the analogy working here. We also have one chance. The peripherals can be meaningful and helpful to an author. Book cover, of course, can attract readers, like a well designed signboard at a restaurant. A well-formatted book can create a good ambiance for the reader to make them feel at home. Book reviews can either drive people to your book or keep them away, much like the word or mouth from a restaurant customer. But all of this matters little when a reader actually sits down to taste our writing – all that really matters at that point is if your writing is delicious – does the story bring them in – do the characters reach into the life of the reader? One bite and the reader will know if they will be a long-time customer of your literary buffet.

So while it’s important to think about all aspects of writing, nothing is every more important than the actual writing. That’s where the beef is.

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