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Saturday, July 18, 2009

My Dive Bombs

My favorite local restaurant is a place where every day, they write the evening's menu on a chalkboard. They hold one or two standards, but everything else changes depending on seasonality / what is fresh. The tables are close together, so you can hear every word of the conversations going on around you.

Services are by nature heterogeneous experiences, but this place intensifies that effect with the changing menu and the proximity of the other patrons.

The result is an experience is sometimes otherworldly-good, sometimes a little more like average.

Last night, I went with expectations of spectacular, but had the average night. The ingredients weren’t as “in-season” as they intended, and the meal was overseasoned to compensate. The patron next to me spent 2 hours talking about his new car (who listens to that for an entire evening? I blame his company as much as I do him).

I score it a disappointment, due to the product quality at the center of the experience and the customer-on-customer interaction.

There's a national chain down the street, where the atmosphere is consistent and the menu is universally good. I've eaten there often, along with it’s likeness in other cities. The booths are encased in a restaurant-scale Great Wall of China, so I usually feel like the only party in the place, even when we’re not. They’ve crafted as homogeneous a dining experience as could exist.

I'm never disappointed, but I'm never amazed either.

Given the choice, I'll take 75% mediocre with a 25% chance of out-of-this world-spectacular over the experience that is universally good, but never exceptional. I imagine I am in the minority on this. As service designers, we need to know what experience we’re capable of, how often we can get there, and which customer we’re looking to entice.

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