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Tuesday, August 25, 2009

What is happening onstage? Does it need to?

Had the chance to experience a unique dining experience on the weekend. The Richtree Market Restaurant is configured as thirteen food stations where meal components are prepared in front of guests as they meander through a vast restaurant, picking entrées, sides and deserts in their own preferred combination.

To complete the experience, guests are given a card as they arrive, which they give to “market stall keepers” upon ordering, who swipe the card for a running tally of what you’ve ordered, to be paid for in a bundle at the end of the meal.

I was there for breakfast, where the individual making my omelet struggled mightily with the turn, eventually breaking it into thirds just to complete the task. Of course, because I was watching, she then had to serve the broken omelet. It tasted great, but I felt for the server – cooking a perfect omelet is tough enough without a crowd of strangers surrounding you, evaluating your prowess with a spatula.

The experience served as a good reminder: service businesses uniquely have the ability to determine where to draw the line of what activities are performed onstage vs. offstage. The general rule of thumb is that if the process requires direct customer input or adds to the experience by being performed in front of the customer, it should be considered as an onstage interaction.

In the case of a Japanese steakhouse, the food preparation is a large part of the experience, so much so that to remove it would diminish the overall experience. At Richtree? More difficult to determine. Certainly the food preparation adds to the “open market” feel of the restaurant, but perhaps there are other ways to achieve the effect without putting a team of non-performer cooks directly onstage.

Its worth considering as you look at your service design: Are there elements being performed in front of customers that don’t need to be? Are there activities that occur offstage today that would increase customers’ affinity for your service if they could see you performing them? Is my best (or the right) talent aligned with those activities that happen as direct consumer interactions?

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