‘Concentrating on the essentials. We will then be accomplishing the greatest possible
results with the effort expended.
Ted W. Engstrom
Copyright © Christopher Parker
The purpose of this investigation was to identify the essentials that have led to the very significant successes of three great restaurants and to then discuss these in ways that highlight their value to organisations within and, most importantly, beyond the hospitality and catering industry. If, as Warren Bennis argued, truly meaningful insights can only be found by studying those who are exemplary, it seems reasonable to believe that these insights, knowledge gathered from the study of excellence, can be transferred across boundaries and can, even if some adaptation is necessary, be applied to improve performance in a myriad of contexts. After all, in an age in which creativity is widely regarded as one of the most important and transferable of business skills, the value of benchmarking is well established. And creative benchmarking surely means we should be willing to look beyond the obvious, to cross boundaries, in search of improvement?
So I chose to focus on a very specific group of businesses that I believed any organisation can learn from. What was the reason for my belief? Simply this. The restaurants studied rely on their ability to produce an outstanding product coupled with the very best of customer service within a time-pressured situation for customers who have only the highest of expectations. They depend upon a mixture of individual expertise and excellent teamwork to achieve their success. They are amongst the most observed, assessed and reported on businesses in the world. And just to maintain their status they have to demonstrate the highest of standards time after time, day after day. Before I began this study I believed that, for these reasons, they were worthy of our attention. Now I am certain.
Oscar Wilde wrote, ‘At 46 one must be a miser; only have time for essentials.’ I was forty six, once, long ago and I have never been a miser. However, time is of the essence no matter what our age, and the essence of business success is what I was seeking to uncover from my detailed study of these three exemplary establishments. The essentials, be they principles, processes, skills or attitudes are more open for transferring than specific details that belong within a specific context. The essentials are at the heart of the matter. And that is where we are going and staying for the rest of this book.
It is clear from the three businesses studied that their success is due to a combination of five essential factors comprising a mixture of attitudes and behaviours, processes, systems and values. I have referred to these five essentials as ingredients not just because of the obvious restaurant connection, but also for two other, significant reasons. These are:
Like ingredients, the five essentials have to be mixed and applied continually in appropriate measure if the most valuable creation is to be achieved.
Whilst each ingredient is significant in its own right, once combined they become greater than the sum of their parts.
To develop the cooking analogy further it is also true to say that business leaders need to know precisely what their finished business ‘dish’ will look, smell and taste like, how it represents them as individuals, how much it will cost to create, who it will appeal to and what value the target market will give to it, before they can begin the mixing process.
The American writer and editor Christopher Morley wrote, ‘There are three ingredients in the good life: learning, earning and yearning.’ And all of the leaders, managers and team members I met, interviewed and observed reinforced the importance of these qualities through both their words and their actions. The personal and corporate desire to learn, to disregard the notion that ‘if it isn’t broken we shouldn’t fix it’ in favour of ‘we can never be perfect, so let’s keep looking to improve’, was so clearly demonstrated by all three businesses that after a time I found it very difficult to imagine any other way of thinking and operating. Interestingly, it also reflected one aspect of their yearning and was responsible in part for their very significant earning!
The businesses all yearn for more than just profit, though. Undeniably, the bottom line is of vital importance, and yet so is the need to provide an outstanding and memorable experience for their guests. Whilst Morley’s ingredients for a good life do manifest themselves within our restaurants, they are not the same as the essential ingredients for business success. The yearning that underpins the behaviours of staff in all three restaurants is created by the culture of each place and that, in turn, is a result of their history, the needs they meet, and their view of how they will fit in the future.
There is something more at stake here than just making money. These businesses stand for something. In each establishment there is a sense of purpose that is far greater than any individual, of values to be upheld and demonstrated, of belonging to something that is challenging and rewarding and irresistible in equal measure, of the need for a level of commitment that absolutely blurs the line between one’s personal and professional life.
These businesses and the people who have created and/or lead them inspire more from their staff than just the desire to do a good days work. They attract people who want to be associated with the quality they represent. They develop the people they attract. They expect absolute commitment from those they employ. And in return they enhance their capabilities and direct and support them on their career pathways.
Our three restaurants operate through streamlined, effective and efficient systems that require staff to incorporate big picture awareness and absolute attention to detail. They combine practicality and logic with creation and experimentation. They are brand conscious, cost-focussed and service driven. They understand precisely what they are selling and how to emphasise its value.
Underpinning all of the strategic planning and daily operations is the first of our five essential ingredients. It is the element from which everything else develops. It is what came first and what will stay for as long as the business exists. It reminds us that a business is primarily a collection of people joined together with a common purpose. And that people are driven by emotion not just logic. We will begin our consideration of the essentials with the ingredient upon which all else depends.