What I Learned About Business at the Red Arrow Diner

I had the opportunity to enjoy lunch at The Red Arrow 24 Hour Diner in Manchester, NH on Sunday. They’re doing a lot of things that many businesses could take a lesson from. Let’s take a look at what they’re doing right.

Core Competence

The Red Arrow is a 24 hour diner. You know what that means. Standard menu, blue plate special here and there, and hot food served quickly. Here’s where a lot of places like to roll out the gimicks… whether it’s a strange combination of foods, or by over-hyping an over clichéed bygone era to the point of nausea. The Red Arrow has been around since 1922, and current owner Carol Sheehan has the common sense not to force 1920s era attired serving staff and music on her patrons. Instead, her crew dishes up great food. By creating a core competency that is always in demand and staying focused, The Red Arrow is several steps ahead of the competition.

Dinah Finger

How’s the food? I had the Sloppy Moe (chili burger) with onion rings and hot wings on the side. I ordered my burger medium rare… in a diner. Guess what? My burger was actually medium rare. My server asked me “how sloppy” I wanted my Moe, to which I replied, “Knife and fork sloppy.” Suffice to say, my onion rings had chili all over them. Any attempt to pick that burger up with the bun was sure to be met with failure. It was FANTASTIC. The wings were delicious, Claire’s pot roast and mashed potatoes subperb, and the macaroni and cheese was everything you could want for from a diner. Don’t get me started about the home made Twinkie like concoction known as Dinah Fingers or the chocolate peanut butter cream pie. These guys have their core competence nailed.

Give it Away

People like free stuff. The Red Arrow recognizes this, and has more than one way to give it away. First, they post several recipes for their award winning food right on their Web site. You can also enter their weekly drawing for either breakfast for two or commemorative coffee mugs delivered to you. 

Reinforce the Brand

Notice how what they give away reinforces the brand? If you’re enjoying their chili recipe at home, you’re thinking about the last time you went to the diner. If you win breakfast for two, you’re going back to the diner. If you win the coffee cups, you’re advertising the diner (even if just to yourself) when you use them. 

Offer Something Unique

Whether you’re sitting where Adam Sandler sat, or enjoying the fact that almost every presidential candidate from the last election also ate at The Red Arrow, you’re getting a piece of pop culture that you would be hard pressed to enjoy anywhere else… and at a great value, too!

Take Risks

In 1998, The Red Diner went “smoke free.” For an establishment with 76 years of history behind it, this was a bold move for the times! If you are sensitive to cigarette smoke, however, you probably could not enjoy a visit to The Red Diner. The establishment at 61 Lowell Street in Manchester, NH, is not large by any stretch of the imagination. Think “airline cabin,” then shrink the space, and you have an idea of what I’m talking about. When Carol Sheehan made the decision, she had no way of knowing that it would help springboard her establishment into the “top 10 diners in the country” according to USA Today.

Turn Your Weaknesses Into Strengths

Cramped space with outdated furniture, or happening spot with vintage amenities? It’s more than just what you call it, it’s your attitude, too. Whether it’s the waitress clanging on a bell and shouting about the “Red Arrow Virgin” who’s having her first blue plate special, and thereby turning a tightly packed crowd of regulars into a cheering team, the sign advising you that only one patron may use the restroom at a time (has this been an issue?), or the sense of urgency you get when there’s a line stretching out the door in a snow storm (eat and leave! quick!), The Red Arrow’s “weaknesses” can easily be showcased as strengths. 

Hats off to Carol Sheehan and company. The Red Arrow 24 Hour Diner is getting it done. A lot of businesses could learn a lot from The Red Arrow. I think I need to go back soon so I can see if I missed anything important.


  1. Candace Dre says:

    Even though the restaurant design itself is lacking, it sounds like this place has overcome the odds by becoming known for their core strengths. I noticed you didn’t mention anything about web 2.0 marketing techniques; instead the Red Arrow seems to rely on old-fashioned common sense - a hard commodity to come by these days.

  2. Sierra @ restaurant design says:

    With its unique, vintage restaurant design and quirky charm it’s no wonder The Red Arrow is a real crowd pleaser.

  3. Renee @ Car Title Loans says:

    Wow- very smart, and sneaky too. I like it! Especially the free giveaways and the fact that we’re advertising their merchandise without even knowing it. Do you know if there’s only Red Arrow in NH?

  4. Fabrice says:

    Another food chain right at the corner spells D-E-L-I-C-I-O-U-S! :) this is some place people should visit and fly for. Although fast foods are not really considered to serve healthy food, this one has to be exempted.

    Aside from that, this is very informative and would lessen the burden of people who want so eat delicious food anytime, anywhere without calling the delivery boy or go out and order something. You still got a long way to go RedArrow. Congratulations!

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