My Library and Courses
Last Update: Thursday July 29, 2021

Key Idea: Make A Small Amount

Thomas Keller believes that small is beautiful. All of his restaurants and portions are small.  Customers seem to love a few bites of one thing and are happy to move on to the next tiny course. There is always a little more...

Key Question:


While other American restaurants pile the plate high with food, Thomas Keller believes that small is beautiful. All of his restaurants are small and all of the portions appearing on plates are small. His kitchen in Yountville is small considering what he and his team accomplish in it everyday.

Q: How does this philosophy translate into a marketing strategy?

A: First, because he has limited seating and it is so hard to get a reservation, even more people want to come to The French Laundry. Thomas is not knocking down walls to add more dining space, he just makes people wait two months to join him for dinner.

People brag that they have a reservation. They brag that they went to The French Laundry and tell stories about the fabulous food. This creates a buzz and more demand.

Second, Thomas has figured out that people are sated by a flavor after just a few bites. Therefore, he pleases the customer by giving them a little of a lot. Thomas plans his meals based upon the law of diminishing returns: the more you have of something, the less you want of it. He says, "So we want to give you just enough to where you get to the point that you've had that last bite at the pinnacle of flavor. Your taste buds accept the flavor, realize the flavor, and then your mouth reaches the point where all of a sudden, it becomes saturated with the flavor and then your enjoyment of the flavor begins to diminish. Well, we want you to finish the dish before your enjoyment diminishes."

Again, he creates buzz. The diner is so perfectly pleased, he tells everyone they must go to The French Laundry. Many diners don't even know why they are so happy when they leave.

At we read about the Keller's New York City restaurant called, Per Se, which opened in 2004. One diner said, "Heavenly. My friend and I went here with extremely high expectations and were convinced no food on earth could meet our expectations - we were wrong. EVERYTHING we ate was incredible - each course was PERFECTION - from the wonderful salmon and creme fraiche cone at the beginning to the gourmet chocolates at the end. The portions - although modest - were perfectly sized considering the large number of courses (we strongly recommend the 9 course menu). The chocolate hazelnut dessert was beyond heavenly. The only negative part of this experience was knowing that all future meals would pale in comparison to the one we experienced at Per Se. You've not lived until you've tried this."

Q: Can this philosophy be applied to other businesses?

A: Sure. A great circus has so much variety that just as you might tire of the elephants, they bring out the lions. Theater works this way as well. It is called pacing. A play or musical that stays on any one thing too long will disappoint an audience.

Thomas Keller's style may be difficult for diners, however, because we are all so conditioned to having salad, soup, main course, and then dessert. Thomas says he has no main course because every course to him is a main course. Every course is of equal value to the total experience. This offers a safety net because if you don't like one particular dish, they'll be another course along soon. What's not to like?

Think about it

How can you use this idea to raise your prices or target new customers?

Clip from: The French Laundry with Chef Thomas Keller

Yountville, Napa Valley, California: He took a little-known restaurant in a little town and turned it into one of the most famous places in the world.  Le Monde said (paraphrased), "Can it be possible that the best French restaurant is not  in France but ...California?" 

Visit The French Laundry and the man who made it come to life, Chef Thomas Keller.  He now also owns Per Se in New York City, and Bouchon in Yountville and in Las Vegas.  To accomplish this growth, he has recruited, hired and trained some of the best chefs and service people in the country.

Writer Irvine Welsh had this to say about dining at The French Laundry,  "...I salivate now as I think of the Truffle-pickled Hen Eggs with 'its creamy yellow' and Chopped Black Truffles.  ...obviously, the title of 'best restaurant in the world' is subjective to the point of lunacy. Having said that, I doubt it would be possible for The French Laundry to be equaled.

...Thomas Keller is a true giant among chefs, coming over as a genuinely inspirational figure, and to see him in action in his kitchen is pure joy."

Go to all the Key Ideas and Videos for this episode...
Go to the homepage for this episode of the show...

French Laundry

Thomas Keller, Owner

6640 Washington Street
Yountville, CA 94599

Visit our web site:

Office: 707.944.2380

Business Classification:

Year Founded:

Make A Small Amount

HATTIE: Hi. I'm Hattie Bryant. This is the place to learn about how to start, run and grow a business. We believe the men and women who have already done this are your best teachers. And more than that, we call them the new American heroes.

Heroes, because out of their imaginations, and so often alone, they find ways to bring new ideas to life, to invigorate and to inspire everyone around them. This is the case with Chef Thomas Keller. His employees and his customers draw inspiration from him.

You will, too.

(Voiceover) What does it take to make a great meal? Perfect ingredients, for one. Then chopping, sauteing, whipping, squeezing, waiting and loving it all into existence. That's what happens every day at this remarkable restaurant in California's Napa Valley, The French Laundry. Owner and chef, Thomas Keller, sets the standards and leads his team of 52 employees. To have dinner here, you must make a reservation two months in advance, to the day. They serve about 90 people in each of two sittings every night in this simply perfect place.

THOMAS KELLER (Owner/Chef, The French Laundry Restaurant): Our philosophy is simple . . . (it's) the law of diminishing returns -- the more you have of something the less you want of it. So we want to give you just enough to where you get to the point where you've had that last bite and it's at the pinnacle of flavor, because your taste buds have reached that. They've gone through the kind of initial acceptance of the flavor, to the realization of the flavor, and the flavor goes like this in your mouth to the point where all of a sudden, it becomes saturated with the flavor and then it starts to go down. Well, we want to keep you at the top of the bell curve of your taste buds.

HATTIE: So I finish my plate, they take it away and . . .

THOMAS: And I want you to say, `God, I wish I had one more bite.'

HATTIE: Oh (with understanding), that's it! OK.

THOMAS: `I wish I had one more bite.'

HATTIE: You leave them feeling . . .

THOMAS: And then you get the next plate, and you say, `Oh my goodness,' and the same thing happens. And then you say `God, I wish I had one more bite of that.'

So by the time your meal is finished, you've gone through your six courses or nine courses or twelve courses, you're completely satisfied. Both your hunger--your physical hunger is completely satisfied because you've consumed enough food, but your intellect about the food is completely satisfied because at each point, each plate that you've had, you've been left with that feeling that, `God, that was so good. I wish I had one more bite.'

HATTIE: (Voiceover) This is American food prepared in the French tradition. I tasted Tongue in Cheek, braised beef cheek, and veal tongue with baby leeks and horseradish cream.

THOMAS: This is the baby arugula that we picked earlier.

HATTIE: I got some.

Not a member yet? Learn!  Be empowered! Join us!