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February 06, 2006
Competing against the best
Your competitor is recognized as the best in your industry, with the best product and the best service.
Your competitor has strong word of mouth and what seems to be an endless stream of evangelism.
Just how are you supposed to compete with that?
That's the challenged posed by Yountville, Calif.-based French Laundry, which many people consider the best restaurant in the United States. After spending some time in Northern California last week, I had the incredible good fortune to see first-hand how the French Laundry rules the high-end food chain of the restaurant business.
The French Laundry does not feed the masses. It's a single location, and you'll find it in a neighborhood of homes in a well-groomed small building that many probably mistake for a house. There's no visible sign, just a preponderance of cars parked in the street nearby. Each night, it only serves about 70-80 people, whose dining experience lasts 3-4 hours. It takes at least two months to secure a reservation.
With multiple James Beard awards and best-of designations under his belt since opening in 1994, chef and proprietor Thomas Keller has established an influential reputation via the evangelism of critics and customers.
About an hour away in Healdsburg, Calif., is Cyrus. It's also situated among the wealthy enclave of wineries and tourists who travel with generous credit limits. Like the Laundry, Cyrus also serves about 70-80 people per night over the course of several hours. Its chef is very talented but less well-known.
Operating restaurants like Cyrus and French Laundry is expensive, especially when 500-700 plates of food are reaching some 70 diners, and each table is occupied by one set of customers the entire night. So here's how Cyrus competes against its biggest and most dominant competitor:
1. Match your competitor's exceptional quality.
The food at both restaurants was cooked perfectly and beautifully presented. Both delivered flawless service. By matching the quality of its better-known competitor, Cyrus removes the primary barriers of opposition.
2. Allow your customers to customize.
The French Laundry offers three prix-fixe menus of nine courses each. Cyrus allows its customers to choose their number of courses and the dishes.
3. Do something buzzworthy in the first few minutes.
As the Cyrus hostess leads you from the bar/reception area, she stops just inside the dining room. There, she picks up a white Zsa-Zsa telephone and says into it: "Chef, the McConnell party is here for table 42. Please send someone out to greet them." It's startling and unexpected. Who calls the chef to say a guest has arrived? It was great theater. Restaurant reviewers can't help but talk about it.
4. Do something buzzworthy again within minutes.
Within seconds after being seated, a well-suited server arrives at the table pushing a large cart stocked with champagne and caviar and offers one or both. It's like arriving at a food spa. The immediate availability of food and drink is pretty remarkable and unlike any other dining experience I've had.
5. Work harder to nurture customer relationships.
Cyrus co-owner Nick Peyton is also a server at the restaurant. His presentation to a nearby table about various cheeses he was preparing was educational if not entertaining. He spent about 15 minutes at the end of our meal asking about our assessment. He was quite happy to talk about his restaurant's philosophy, too. Then he invited us to tour the kitchen. Our server at the French Laundry (Kevin) was also quite knowledgeable and friendly and invited us to the kitchen. But talking with Nick was like spending time with the CEO.
In a competitive framework, Cyrus meets the high expectations set by its better-known competitor. Being less expensive doesn't hurt Cyrus, but lower price alone does not establish a leadership position. That's why Cyrus stands out with the Chef Phone and champagne & caviar cart. Both tactics and its point-for-point quality certainly had the locals buzzing.
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Jackie Huba write a very insightful article over at Church of the Customer about Competing against the best in the restaurant industry, but these points are just as important for any industry. 5 easy points to WOW! when you're competing against the bes... [Read More]
» Customization from *Star In The Margin
Jackie and Ben hit the nail on the head...again! Using two highly regarded wine country restaurants as examples (French Laundry and Cyrus), they give us some excellent insight into what makes these establishments so extraordinary. I'll follow with my o... [Read More]
Great article! I'm always up for a divine culinary experience. Your 5-point, buzz-creataing list applies to both the food industry and church. I'm a pastor in northern Indiana enjoying your site! Lots of great take-aways. We're competing for the attention and volunteer "evangelists" who find a WOW experience from the care of our people that rivals the best customer experience they've encountered anywhere else. Thanks again!
Well said. Having the best product is no guarantee of success. In a world of "seemingly" identical products you have to get yourself seen and heard above the crowd.
Quality, Customization, Buzz, More Buzz, and developing a relationship is a "recipe" for succcess.
Chief Show Officer
A great experience like this starts with being purposeful, understanding the brand expectation - being buzzworthy, in this case - and empowering every employee to perform to that standard.
So many organizations start with amazing products and then deliver ordinary service, in denial that anything but the product is important. It's the experience, the culmination of many little touches, which creates the brand. In this case, it sounds like quite a pleasurable brand that is different, inviting, relevant and truthful. And the employees make it theirs.