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Recipe For Success

September 17, 2009

I have been thinking a lot about restaurants lately.

Yesterday as I was trying to suggest another way to find value in restaurants beyond just portion size, I identified three big areas where eating establishments can create true value.

#1 Restaurant Quality Ingredients
#2 Time Intensive Preparations
#3 Specialized Restaurant Equipment

Immediately it dawned on me, that these three things are all present at my favorite espresso makers, Blue Bottle Coffee.  And as I thought about more and more restaurants, these three elements do not just create true value, but they are also a big part of the recipe for success of many top-flight food establishments.

Here are some examples.

Blue Bottle Coffee
#1 – Single estate espresso beans
#2 – The barista starts with a fresh milk tin for every drink
#3 – Their well-hyped $20,000 custom-built vacuum brew machine

Peter Luger
#1 Hand-picked prime steaks
#2 Dry-aged on premise
#3 Cooked using an 1800°F broiler

Bourbon & Branch
#1 Extremely rare bottlings of spirits
#2 Emulsifying eggs in cocktails is not a quick and easy process
#3 Different ice machines so each cocktail can have the correct ice

I could go on, but I think you get the point.

What I find interesting is not just the common success shared by places that adhere to these guidelines, but that it spans categories of establishments.  It holds true for the $3 espresso, the $12 cocktail and the $80 steak.

Certainly other things need to be present as well.  Flawless execution is certainly right up there on the top.

But I think it is clear that when a café, restaurant or a bar create something special that you cannot get anywhere else (including your own kitchen), they can charge more for it, and people will still come.

Because ultimately, it’s still a good value.

Sounds like a recipe for success to me.  Or is all of this just coincidence?  I’m looking forward to hearing your thoughts.  Perhaps I am missing some additional way (besides portion size) that restaurants create true value.  Maybe you know of places that fulfill all these requirements and are still not successful.  Possibly I am placing the bar too high, and with flawless execution, fulfilling two out of three is enough to separate an establishment from the pack.

Ok.  Ready.  Set.  Comment.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Jane Sweeney permalink
    September 17, 2009 10:58 am

    First of all, hi Daniel! I just came across this and I think you’re on to something. It makes sense and your examples are perfect. Except after thinking about it for a few minutes, I realized there might be another important criteria. The three elements you list are all about the product experience. I agree that without a great product experience, it doesn’t matter what else you offer.

    But what about the great dining experience you’ve had that is more than the tangible? People often dine out in order to have a mini-escape from their own kitchen, for someone else to serve them, or just to have fun (or maybe that’s just me). Sometimes an establishment can make one feel more romantic, more wealthy, more refined, or simply can enhance the mood of its diners. I’m not offering much help here as I’m not sure how to codify this fourth criteria. Perhaps that’s why not all restaurants possess it, it may be harder to attain than specialized equipment? But, if I can get quality ingredients, prepared well and like no where else AND feel immediately better when walking in the doors, that’s true value. The intangible feeling of the overall experience is probably subjective (service, lighting, space, music) but I think everyone would nod in agreement that they know what I’m talking about.

  2. Ellen Whitby permalink
    September 17, 2009 9:40 pm

    I think an added value is the convenience of not having to make a meal. An “unspecial” restaurant or a diner, for example, doesn’t necessarily have specialized ingredients or equipment as you describe. They offer my family a chance for everyone to eat what they want so I don’t have to make 4 completely different meals – I don’t actually have to make any meals. When I don’t have to end a busy day with cooking (before) or cleaning up (after), I don’t think I mind if the food isn’t mind-blowing. However, in support of what you’re saying, on a night like this, we never say “why don’t we go to a restaurant where they serve mediocre food”.

    Just my thoughts…

  3. Kate C. permalink
    September 18, 2009 10:28 am

    What you have described is what makes excellent restaurant food, not what makes an excellent restaurant. I’m agreeing with Jane here, and Ellen too to some extent. I think that I choose a restaurant for the atmosphere–the sense of welcome or fun or solace or elegance or no-kids-in-sight or kids-appreciated–that I need at the moment. Crappy food is out, but top-flight food is certainly not the only thing I’m looking for, and often I have to forgo it to get the restaurant experience I want. (Especially with a limited budget, and, as you have noted, a limited restaurant scene.)

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