Sunday 13 July 2008

The way to a man’s heart

I have often wondered about opening up a coffee shop or a restaurant. And lately I have heard so many of my friends share such similar ideas with me. I think I know where this desire comes from. You can establish the best restaurant in the neighbourhood; you can feel good about your work; your customers will get to know you, and they will love coming back if you delight them time and time again. You don’t need to have over 10 billion served; you don’t have pressures to IPO; you don’t have to have a Web site and market survey cards because you will know your customers - you can do a honest day’s work and you can put your heart into it, and your customers will feel this and they will support you and promote you.

A short time ago I met some people for dinner at the Grillhouse in Rosebank. Joel Katz and Saul Mervis were there as usual to look after us and we had such a great night out. The place was buzzing. Why do people love going there? Yes, the food is delicious and the service is fantastic, but more than this you always feel special there. They make such an effort to get to know their customers who keep coming back for more.

I remember at the turn of the century one of the giant fast-food burger chains in the US launched an advertising campaign that I want to re-visit here. A “restaurant style hamburger” was the new product in town and it was being sold at a non-restaurant price. The advertising was all over the place. It went like this, “How much would you expect to pay for this high quality restaurant style hamburger? 8$? 9$? 10$? Nope. It is now only 3.95$ And that’s not all – we don’t have waiters bothering you and you can be in and out in no time.” A restaurant burger without the restaurant - a quality meal in a hurry … stop! The whole point of a quality meal is the fact that you sit down in a relaxed environment with friends. Who would pay R100 for a take-out box of prawns from a fast food joint? If you are gonna spend the money then make a night of it.

The good things in life take time - quality is about what comes naturally; and we know we can’t cheat nature. The words “quality” and “fast” just don’t go together. A quality experience can’t be rushed. The progress paradox strikes again!

So, back to reality here in Johannesburg. Yes, you can have the no. 1 restaurant in town and feel good about your establishment. Compare this to the entertainment world where if you are not in the top 10 you are no where. The music and motion picture industries are very cruel this way. The media has conditioned us to judge someone because they have not made it into some list of highest grossing box office receipts. Have you heard some of the rubbish bubble-gum music that is raking in the money? This is not about quality – this is all about the mediocre mainstream and about mass marketing. The Grillhouse is tops and no Fortune 500 list can take away from this. And we should be applying this type of thinking to all businesses.

If you simply look at your bottom-line as a measure then you are never going to be on top. I am sure the people of the Grillhouse make a good living, but this is not what struck me when I was there for dinner. I saw a team of people who were excited, enthusiastic and full of smiles. Actually, the whole place was full of smiles. This is a business that one can clearly see has been built as a labour of love. And their customers love going there. This is what leads to true success.

A mentor of mine once told me that true success means doing today what you did on your first day. Just keep doing things from the heart; just keep being passionate about your work; just keep doing what you love doing and don’t ever think for a minute that there is something better out there. And if you make some money then that’s great, but don’t go changing – just keep doing what you loved doing back when it all began. There is nothing like a pile of money to give one the illusion of self-importance. And always try and remember these famous words, “If you don’t stand for something you will fall for anything”.

Look at the best doctors. I mean, look at the ones who have been treating a community of patients for over a decade. Look at the compassion they have. Watch how they listen to you the next time you go and see them. This is what they love doing. And this is why we trust them. When people make a difference to your life you keep going back for more. And the Grillhouse is one restaurant where people keep going back for more. Many restaurants have good food. What keeps us going back is that we are made to feel special when we are there. It is the overall quality of our experience that inspires us. Focus on delivering quality to your customers and the rewards will follow.

Nothing instant ever leads to anything good. Instant coffee, instant gratification, instant messaging, instant whatever – it is all crap. The good things in this world take time. Building relationships means being hands on. And that takes time. Switch off your cellphone and make time. Invest this time, not because it is the right thing to do, but rather because you love doing it. Invest this time with your customers and they will conspire to reward you. Someone sent me this great quote once: "If you find a job you love, you'll never have to work again”.

Posted by Ronnie Apteker