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Monday, February 21, 2011

Be dramatic, but be real.

On a date to a local French restaurant we’d been meaning to try for some time, my wife and I encountered a well-intentioned service touch that didn’t fit the experience.

Upon entering the restaurant, we were greeted by the host with a well spoken “Bon soir, Monsieur et Madame.” I thought it was a nice touch. My wife, a fluent French speaker, wondered aloud after we were seated whether she & the rest of the staff could really speak French.

When it came time to order, she followed the host’s lead, speaking only in French. The experiment didn’t last long, our server stopping her to repeat the order in English. The service miscue didn’t let either of us down - in suburban Kansas City, our expectation wasn’t of a fully authentic French dining experience - but it was an unnecessarily poor opening, given that the food was outstanding and the service was otherwise terrific.

As you craft the service experience, at some point you must decide whether that experience will be an exact representation of your vision, or the best possible experience you can consistently create.

In this example, the exact representation of the vision means that the owner would commit to finding French-speaking staff. But that decision has other implications. The market for French servers in Kansas City is relatively small. Finding and keeping an authentic French-speaking staff would likely cost more than for a comparable restaurant. They might have to increase prices to compensate for the authenticity of the experience, which then changes other strategic aspects, such as whether the location is appropriate. It is definitely more work, but if the vision is to be 100% authentic, you have to commit to it.

More frequently, service businesses take the alternate route. This one did, compromising on some elements, making the experience as close as possible to French dining as they could without taking on the additional work and cost of finding French-speaking service staff. This choice is perfectly acceptable, and strategically may be the better of the two. It’s true that people have an expectation of the experience even before they try it, but you have the opportunity to set appropriate expectations through each service encounter.

The one choice you should not make is to fake the experience you want people to perceive you will give them. Whether your vision is to be consistent in every little detail of the experience or to provide an experience that sacrifices on some touchpoints, but has a more broad appeal, always go with the reality of who you are over the falsity of who you think people may wish you were.

If the experience is good, people will forgive the little stuff that is out of place.


Mike Brown said...

Great post Chris on the consistency and authenticity of the experience. It all makes me ask though, were the fries French? : )


Chris Reaburn said...

With the same spirit of solidarity displayed through the gift of Lady Liberty, I prefer the term "Freedom Frites."

(And yes, anything cooked in duck fat gets an automatic French credential, IMO.)