Brilliance With the Basics – A Winning Success Strategy For Any Economy?

In turbulent economic times, like the one we are facing today, businesses both large and small are focused on getting more customers through the doors as a means of short-term survival. Unfortunately, some in the restaurant industry have clearly accepted discounting, through television promotion and coupons, as their sole means responding to the economic downturn. These companies are ignoring other more sustainable approaches to success at their own peril.

The businesses poised to emerge most successfully from the current mess, recognize that long-term success must include the added focus on being brilliant with the basics. In the case of restaurants this means improving their food and service. Spending large amounts of money to attract customers and giving them a mediocre dining experience just won’t cut it.

In his bestselling book, Love Is the Killer App: How To Win Business and Influence Friends, Tim Sanders presents a compelling case for why business owners must focus on basics execution with the same intensity as they do marketing. Sanders remind us that current and repeat customers are the most profitable, most likely to refer a friend, and least demanding. Factor in the high marketing cost of attracting a new customer and it is easy to see why impressing those customers already inside your four walls is a big part of any winning strategy.

I earned my MBA from Darden University, not the prestigious business school in Virginia; but rather, the dominant restaurant company in Orlando, Florida. Under the leadership of Joe R. Lee, one of the last great restaurateurs, our purpose was clear. We were expected to keep guest delight first, treat employees as we wanted them to treat guests, build strong teams, and execute the basics brilliantly each day.

As one of the largest restaurant companies in the World, one might expect Darden to be obsessed with financial reporting and all of the complexities that accompany running hundreds of multi-million dollar operations across the country. To the contrary, we obsessed over the basics like food quality, food temperature, friendly service, and yes, clean restrooms. By paying attention to the basics that directly touch guests, financial results tend to fall in line and the many other complexities tend to be less daunting.

Now I imagine that in an era of economic upheaval, the rise of twitter, and the prevalence of molecular gastronomy, talk about restaurant basics may sound simplistic or corny. Whatever the perception, you can be certain that restaurants offering the best food and service experiences for the money will be the ones standing when the smoke clears. Clever marketing and promotions simply won’t be enough on its own.