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Saturday, September 29, 2007

The Focal Point

Have you ever gone to a restaurant with two or more food service operators? I really enjoy these occasions. The insights are incredible. We're talking major critique on staff, cleanliness, speed of service, quality of food and many other insightful comments.

While these friends of mine carve up the dining room, I tend to focus on consistency. I watch nearby tables and see what is popular. I'll almost always go with the crowd at a new restaurant. Once I get my order, I'm evaluating the portion size just as critically as the quality of the food. Specifically, I want to know if I received either a bigger or a smaller portion than the norm.

One classic restaurant experience comes to mind. I invited a friend to a popular pub on a Friday. The pub specialized in seafood. He ordered sole and he never stopped talking about the fantastic experience for the next month. He was surprised at the generous portion size and the top quality preparation. In the many conversations he had with his friends, he highly recommended the pub. Let's put the experience in focus: we're talking about a beautiful 12 ounce portion of fresh Atlantic flounder broiled to perfection.

When we all went out about a month later, he insisted on returning to the pub. He ordered the same entree. This time he really received lemon sole. The pub offered a completely different presentation using 7 ounces of thin filet of sole in a lemon sauce. They lost a customer on the spot. He ate the sole and he even commented on the well prepared lemon sauce. The reason they lost his business was consistency.

The switch from a large 12 ounce portion of flounder to a petite 7 ounce portion of sole changed his mind. The focal point was the center of the plate entree. All the other meal components were fantastic. The generous salad with top notch house dressing was a winner. All classic sides of slaw and fries were prepared well and fit the entree perfectly. The negative buzz caused by the entree swap completely cancelled all the previous word of mouth promotion.

My friend never returned to the pub. He called all of his friends and told them of the switch. He is not a food service professional. He is a radiologist.

I can remember a discussion I had with my boss years 20 ago. We were changing a menu to highlight seasonal favorites. He said you have to be careful what you offer the customers. Its difficult to take away something once the expectation has been established.

Despite well executed meals on two occasions, this restaurant lost a potential frequent diner and created bad word of mouth exposure.

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