The Sizzle Sells

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A Mexican restaurant. You look down at your menu. Entrés, mains, desserts, saladas. It all looks good.

“But what do I choose?” you ponder to yourself.

Tacos? Enchiladas? Burritos?

Oh man, they all sound awesome. Decisions. Decisions….

But then it happens. That noise.

The sizzle!

In unison, the entire restaurant turns towards the door leading from the kitchen. Conversation stops and all eyes are focused on the waiter carefully navigating his way throughout the tables with this curiously noisy dish.

A glorious smell fills the air. Fried onions. Marinated steak. And spices… so many spices. It’s the perfect combination that gets stronger as the noise gets closer to you.

The moments between that smell hitting your nose, that sound registering in your ears and the waiter guiding that sizzling hotplate past you to the lucky customer who ordered it, all of your senses conspired to make a decision for you.

You order the fajitas.

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I’m fairly sure that for the majority of those reading this right now, I’ve just described an experience you’ve had at a Mexican restaurant at least once in your life huh?

Congratulations. You’ve experienced the very deliberate marketing strategy of the fajita!

Now, a story about Mexican cuisine may seem like a bit of an odd story to share on a platform like this, but bear with me, because this is one of my favourite (and delicious) product marketing stories.

This is origin story of The Fajita.

The Origins of the Fajita

The Fajita. It’s essentially a DIY burrito/spicy wrap. Created in the heart of Mexico and passed down through generations. Mexican cuisine at its finest.

Well… no.

Sorry to break it to you, but fajita’s didn’t originate in Mexico. The birthplace of the fajita is a place called the Rio Grande Valley, Texas. And it wasn’t that long ago either. The first print mention of the word ‘fajita’ anywhere in the world didn’t occur until the 70’s.

Fajita founderDuring this time, there were certain cuts of beef that consumers preferred and others that people considered to be less desirable. One of these less desirable cuts was the skirt strip; otherwise known as the ‘faja’ (Spanish for ‘strip’ or ‘belt’). Typically, butchers of the day would just throw this strip away, that was until one day a man by the name of Juan Antonio “Sonny” Falcon (image below) decided he’d try and figure out how to use this steak.

Sonny experimented for a couple of years with different ways of slicing the beef, different cooking techniques and using various spices until he came up with the perfect creation. The right mix of grilled meat, vegies and spices. Once perfected, he decided to enter the recipe into a local country fare under the name of ‘taco el carbon’, but was promptly denied due to another vendor selling tacos being at the fair (the fair rules prevented two vendors selling the same dish).

So Sonny bided his time and returned the next year with a new name incorporating its key ingredient – Faja. And the Fajita was born.

But the dish and name alone weren’t enough. Sonny also had a secret weapon.

The sizzling dish.

Sonny recognised that he needed to stand out from the crowd in order for his new dish to reach a wider audience. Sure, the other vendors might have delicious food. Or even interesting looking food, but he had something they didn’t. He also had the noisiest food! It commanded attention.

The lingering smell of fried onions. The exciting new name. The ‘build your own’ concept were all part of the appeal of this new dish. But it was the sound that really won the hearts, and stomachs, of the people. The sizzle. Cooking directly in front of the customer rather than out the back. Making it amore than a meal. Making it an experience.

The sizzle sells.

So much so, that popular US restaurant chain Chili’s has built a business model around the sizzle. They are so confident in the sizzle that as soon as one person orders fajitas in one of their restaurants, they begin cooking a dozen more fajita dishes even before anyone else orders them.

They know that as soon as that first sizzling hotplate of beef and grilled onions enters the restaurant floor, the entire experience is contagious. They know that other customers will always order the fajitas on the back of this first customer’s order. It’s not just a great dish, it’s a great sensory experience on all levels.

They call it the fajita effect.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Almost every business is looking for their own fajita effect, but unfortunately for most, they put too much emphasis on only one of the elements of the dish. Hence the term ‘All sizzle, no steak’.

The trick is to find the perfect ingredients.

Take the time to perfect the flavours. Don’t just make it edible, make it desirable.

Then, once you’ve done all of that, make it sizzle as loud as you possibly can.



Who the hell is Daylan Pearce?

Daylan is a digital strategist for branding agency Principals. Looking after digital and customer experience projects, Daylan has been featured in The New York Times,, B&T, ProBlogger and more. He once ate 13 McDonald's cheeseburgers in under 5 minutes, but strongly advises against anyone else ever trying that. He also feels slightly odd when writing about himself in the third person for blog biography summaries.