The Reason Why the Cheesecake Factory’s Menu Is So Big

iStock/LPETTET
iStock/LPETTET

Some of our most cherished people, places, and things are turning 40 this year: Garfield, Dallas, and Space Invaders among them. Joining these beloved pieces of Americana in celebrating 40 years on the planet is The Cheesecake Factory—that delicious ode to dairy-based desserts that you’ve likely eaten at with your parents. And if there’s one thing you remember about the experience, aside from the massive amount of cheesecake on display, it's the size of The Cheesecake Factory’s menu. And by size we mean both its physical size as well as its breadth of offerings.

The restaurant’s 21-page menu lists more than 250 made-from-scratch items (85 of them chicken dishes) and clocks in at a whopping 5940 words, which is roughly a third of the length of Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Pulling a muscle to lift the menu wouldn’t be totally out of the question. And while cheesecake may be the main attraction, the food offerings span the globe for their culinary inspirations. Thai lettuce wraps sit right alongside stuffed tortillas, chicken and biscuits, and Vietnamese shrimp summer rolls. There’s pizza, too. And salads and sandwiches. And dozens of varieties of cheesecake.

"At first, we really just wanted a menu that lived around the cheesecakes," The Cheesecake Factory founder/chairman/CEO David Marshall Overton told Thrillist earlier this year. "I wasn't a chef, I had no experience in the restaurant business either, and I didn't want any chef we hired to walk out on me. So, I made sure that everything we served, was something I could make myself."

Overton soon realized he had a knack for cooking. As he began to experiment with new and more complex recipes, he added them to the menu and it kept growing. And growing. And growing.

"When I ate at other restaurants during this time, I was able to take some of the more complex recipes, more expensive dishes, and bring them down to casual dining," he told Thrillist. "I'd work on new menu items with a cook, behind the line. And as we kept expanding the menu, people kept responding positively.”

Overton’s marketing strategy was basically: the more dishes, the better. If a couple was headed out to dinner and one person was craving Italian while the other wanted Mexican, they could both happily satisfy their appetites at The Cheesecake Factory. But in those early days, The Cheesecake Factory was just a one-location operation in Beverly Hills, California.

"I probably should have kept the menu slimmer,” Overton admitted. "If I knew then what I know today … I had no idea we would become a chain, and would have to recreate this menu dozens of times. We put anything we wanted to on the menu. Every June and December we added new items. And we tried to stay current, adding any food items that happened to be trending at the time, and tried to keep pace with what America wanted."

When it came time to expand, it was too late to scale things back: the legendarily large menu was a main selling point for dining out at The Cheesecake Factory. And 40 years later, it still is.

In Talk Triggers: The Complete Guide to Creating Customers with Word of Mouth, a popular guide detailing how some of the world’s best-known brands have engendered customer loyalty, Jay Baer and Daniel Lemin wrote extensively about how important The Cheesecake Factory’s back-breaking menu is to its success:

"You might think [it’s] too long, but for The Cheesecake Factory, it's just right. Why? Because the vastness of the restaurant's menu is so unusual that it compels conversation among its patrons. Menu breadth is its secret customer-acquisition weapon—it hides in plain sight, in the hands of each and every diner.

The menu at The Cheesecake Factory is a talk trigger: a built-in differentiator that creates customer conversations.

Every day consumers comment on the remarkable menu variety with a combination of bewilderment, awe, and frustration."

Even if you’ve never eaten at The Cheesecake Factory, you’ve likely heard tell of its menu—and that’s precisely the point.

"The Cheesecake Factory doesn't have to buy awareness because its menu is remarkable enough to compel patrons to tell their friends, which in turn creates new customers,” Baer and Lemin wrote. "When you commit to a talk trigger like The Cheesecake Factory menu, that difference creates conversation that clones your customers, bringing you new revenue for free." Even if you do need to strength-train to lift it.

20 Attempts to Describe the Taste of Durian, the World’s Smelliest Fruit

iStock.com/Worradirek
iStock.com/Worradirek

The durian is a beloved delicacy in Malaysia, Singapore, and other parts of Southeast Asia. Its taste and smell, however, take some getting used to. The creamy fruit is notoriously potent—in fact, it’s so smelly that Singapore’s public transit systems tell passengers not to bring them onto subways or buses. And yet, despite its stinky reputation, it can be found practically everywhere: In curries, cakes, and even ice cream. For visitors, biting into the fruit can be an utterly confusing and contradictory experience. Here are some outsider opinions from the past 400 years.

1. “The flesh is as white as snow, exceeds in delicacy of taste of all our best European fruits, and none of ours can approach it.” —Jacques de Bourges, 17th Century Missionary

2. “Comparisons have been made with the civet cat, sewage, stale vomit, onions, and cheese; while one disaffected visitor to Indonesia declared that the eating of the flesh was not much different from having to consume used surgical swabs.” —The Oxford Companion to Food

3. “Tastes lightly sweet and deeply musky.” —Frommer’s Guide to Malaysia

4. “[I]ts odor is best described as pig-sh*t, turpentine and onions, garnished with a gym sock. It can be smelled from yards away.” —Richard Sterling, food writer

5. "To eat it seems to be the sacrifice of self-respect.” —Bayard Taylor, 19th-century Journalist

6. “To anyone who doesn’t like durian it smells like a bunch of dead cats. But as you get to appreciate durian, the smell is not offensive at all. It’s attractive. It makes you drool like a mastiff.” —Bob Halliday, Bangkok-based food writer

7. “Vomit-flavoured custard.” —The Rough Guide to Malaysia, Singapore & Brunei

8. “The smell of rotten eggs is so overwhelming. I suppress a gag reaction as I take a bite.” —Robb Walsh, food writer

9. “Like all the good things in Nature … durian is indescribable. It is meat and drink and an unrivalled delicacy besides, and you may gorge to repletion and never have cause for penitence. It is the one case where Nature has tried her hand at the culinary art and beaten all the CORDON BLEUE out of heaven and earth.” —a "good friend" of Edmund J. Banfield, Australian Naturalist, as quoted in Banfield's 1911 book My Tropic Isle

10. “[Has a] sewer-gas overtone.” —Maxine E. McBrinn, Anthropologist

11. “Like pungent, runny French cheese … Your breath will smell as if you’d been French kissing your dead grandmother.” —Anthony Bourdain, Chef and Host of Parts Unknown

12. “On first tasting it, I thought it like the flesh of some animal in a state of putrefaction, but after four or five trials I found the aroma exquisite.” —Henri Mouhot, French Naturalist, in Travels in the Central Parts of Indo-China: Siam, Cambodia, and Laos, During the Years 1858, 1859, and 1860

13. “[Like] eating ice cream in an outhouse.” —As reported in Jerry Hopkins's Strange Foods

14. “I must say that I have never tasted anything more delicious. But not everyone can enjoy or appreciate this strange fruit for the disgusting smell that distinguishes it and that is apt to cause nausea to a weak stomach. Imagine to have under your nose a heap of rotten onion and you will still have but a faint idea of the insupportable odour which emanates from these trees and when its fruit is opened the offensive smell becomes even stronger.” —Giovanni Battista Cerruti, Italian Explorer, in 1908's My Friends the Savages

15. “It tastes like completely rotten mushy onions.” —Andrew Zimmern, Host of Bizarre Foods

16. “Like eating raspberry blancmange in the lavatory.” —Anthony Burgess, Novelist

17. “A rich custard highly flavored with almonds gives the best general idea of it, but there are occasional wafts of flavor that call to mind cream-cheese, onion-sauce, sherry-wine, and other incongruous dishes." —Alfred Russel Wallace, 19th-century British Naturalist

18. “You will either be overcome, seduced by its powerful, declarative presence, or reject it outright. And run screaming." —Monica Tan, The Guardian Journalist

19. “Carrion in custard.” —A “Governor of the Straits” quoted in 1903's Hobson-Jobson: A glossary of colloquial Anglo-Indian words and phrases, and of kindred terms, etymological, historical, geographical and discursive

20. “Yes, I freely admit that when ripe it can smell like a dead animal. Yes, the fruit is difficult to handle, bearing likeness to a medieval weapon. But get down to the pale yellow, creamy flesh, and you’ll experience overtones of hazelnut, apricot, caramelized banana and egg custard. That’s my attempt at describing durian. But words fail; there is no other fruit like it.” —Thomas Fuller, New York Times Journalist

What Is Nougat?

iStock.com/InaTs
iStock.com/InaTs

If you've ever had a Snickers, Three Musketeers, or Milky Way bar, you know what nougat tastes like. The sweet, creamy concoction can range in texture from chewy to fluffy, and it is the star ingredient in many popular candy bars. But aside from being delicious, what is nougat exactly?

In its simplest form, nougat is made of two basic ingredients: egg whites and a sweetener, traditionally sugar or honey. The signature texture comes from how it's prepared. Like a meringue, eggs and sugar are whipped together quickly until the mixture is aerated and stiff.

Nougat predates mass-produced candy bars, with the confection originating in the Middle East around the 8th century. It spread to southern Europe and gained widespread popularity in 17th-century France. Nougat is still a common component in many Middle Eastern desserts today, and torrone, a type of nougat containing nuts like almonds and pistachios, is enjoyed in Italy around Christmastime.

As more large candy companies have embraced nougat, its quality has suffered over the years, with corn syrup often standing in for the sweetener. But you don't need to head to the candy aisle of your local supermarket to get your nougat fix. If you have eggs and honey in your kitchen, you can make nougat at home today.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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