A Tale of Two (Culinary) Cities

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on Thursday, 13 March 2014 in Blog Posts

GUSI’m certainly no expert in culinary arts. In my family, my sister Christine Couvelier reigns as the culinary expert. I have spent more than my fair share of time in restaurants, however, particularly while travelling for business, so I feel I am at least experienced enough to comment on a disturbing trend I’ve noticed.

Within the span of a couple of days last month, I had very different experiences at two completely different restaurants.

One evening last month, I dined at a very well-reviewed and popular restaurant in Miami Beach. This restaurant has a very creative menu, is consistently very busy, and judging from both the velvet rope, and the very nice cars at the valet, it’s very popular with people far more hip than I. After a very enjoyable course of appetizers, our table was approached by a busboy, who proceeded to remove the cutlery from our plates, then place it on the table before removing the appetizer plates. In other words, this very popular (and somewhat expensive) restaurant wanted us to re-use our cutlery for our entrées after having their staff handle it and place it on a table. To my eyes, this practice has become quite common in and around Miami over the past couple of years.

In contrast, a couple of days following the dinner mentioned above, I travelled to Little Rock, Arkansas for a brief meeting. The gentleman with whom I met suggested we lunch at a Little Rock institution, Gus’s Fried Chicken. Gus’s was about as far from a Miami Beach hot spot as you could get.  Customers sat on wooden benches, at tables covered in plasticized picnic-table covers, and the cutlery, brought to the table by a tremendously friendly waiter, was plastic. Between my appetizer of fried pickles, and my entrée of fried chicken, the friendly waiter cleared plates and cutlery, and provided new cutlery for the main course. Had I been dining with Dorothy Gale, I imagine she would have commented “we’re not in Miami anymore!”

The contrast between the two dining experiences mentioned above was stark. The too-cool-for-school restaurant experience left me turned off, and the fried chicken joint left me wanting more. Even with all of their hype and “coolness”, many of Miami’s hot new restaurateurs fail to operate their establishments at standards found commonly elsewhere, unfortunately contributing to Miami’s reputation as a bit of a backwards town.

The above story is not only a rant on my part, but also a valuable business lesson. Businesses should constantly be looking outward to compare themselves not only to their immediate competition, but the world outside their comfort zone to ensure their service is meeting the expectations of a broader market. Expansion and wider appeal are unlikely if your business cannot meet generally accepted norms outside of your local market.

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