Business Lessons From Gilmore Girls

I originally wrote this in 2004, thus the dated references to a TV series long ended.


The Gilmore Girls episode that aired on Tuesday, October 26 had a great example of all or nothing, either/or, uncreative business thinking. I was just bursting as I watched, thinking of all the possibilities.

There are spoilers if you haven’t seen the episode, and some explanation enough to set the scene if you have never watched, or not recently watched, that show.

Lorelai co-owns, sort of the senior partner, an inn located in the sleepy, tourist-appeal, fictional village where she lives. This is a fairly new development, following the closing of an inn she managed after it was partially damaged by fire.

Luke, long time friend and father figure to Lorelai’s daughter, owns the popular local diner.

These days, Luke and Lorelai are finally in a relationship, this being one of those show where “it” has been there all along, but their marriage and the final episode would pretty much have to go hand in hand.

One of the partners in the inn, Sookie, is an astoundingly good cook and runs a mean kitchen, but is obsessive and not always practical.

The inn is doing okay for a new venture, but needs to trim expenses. Lunch is an obvious problem. They are staffed up and ready to go, yet they do no lunch business.

That makes sense. Tourists book at the inn, eat breakfast, check out and leave before lunch or go hit the town and have lunch elsewhere, then they are back for supper. Lunch would be the orphan meal.

In a classic battle that loses sight of any but the either/or alternatives, Sookie insists they have to keep lunch, insulted that her turf will be trampled. Lorelai insists that there will no longer be lunch served at the inn, period.

That was what got me all excited, saying “but they could…” and amusing Deb.

Nobody buys lunch. The possibility exists that sometimes an inn customer will want to. You’re losing money and will go out of business if you don’t trim costs. Or generate revenue, if only marginal, to offset them.

So you could…

  • Keep offering lunch and promote it heavily, including to the locals, essentially marketing that part of your business as a restaurant more than an adjunct service to the inn guests.
  • Stop offering lunch, but work with local restaurant(s) to promote their places as alternatives. Maybe some co-marketing arrangements.
  • Essentially close the kitchen for lunch, but offer simple, premade items or foods outsourced to a local restaurant for guests.
  • Reduce staff, simplify the menu options, save costs but don’t close entirely.
  • I may have had other thoughts, but it’s been over a week since I first itched to write this. In short, doing the either-or is too simplistic, though it was also a plot device, and represents the kind of failure to imagine that people all too often experience. It’s always harder from the inside, too. I well know. Kill this business unit. Leave this business unit exactly as is. Save massive cash but harm the image of the business. Bleed the business dry. Either. Or. By the same token, we make widgets and they are used for X. We will refuse to acknowledge that widgets can also be used for Y, because X is our business. That’s the way to become a business class case study.

    Well, turns out Sookie wasn’t completely lost to the possibilities. She went off on her own accord, sending another character out with discount lunch fliers to drum up business. The problem was not proposing the idea to her partner and ignoring the decision, good or bad, to close the kitchen at lunch.

    So the comic foil of the show ended up in a hot dog suit, handing out fliers in front of the diner, getting Lorelai in trouble with Luke and Sookie in trouble with Lorelai. I was unsatisfied with Lorelai ultimately enforcing the lunch closing. Yet Sookie was absolutely insane to have a staff of seven bustling away with nobody ordering lunch. She does food, not practical business.

    I would think if the supper crowd justifies it, there might be room to have a person or two prepping all day and able to handle basic lunch orders. Problem solved, resources efficiently allocated, business model improved, and no need for an either/or decision.