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Beirut

Fighting the Tigers and Bears

In the wilderness, anything can happen. I’m sure that’s what all hikers and troopers of the forest would say. Survival of the fittest is not necessarily true in this instance, unless survival of the fittest means having a good plan to tackle unexpected dangers and daggers of the wilderness.

Beirut: a start-up restaurant

All that could happen to a start-up restaurant will happen to Beirut, is my guess. She is the first Lebanese restaurant on Washington Ave, and within three months of existence she sees her first major competition a mile down the street, Mary’z. This is Mary’z’s second restaurant in Houston and Beirut’s first sign of danger. Or is it?

Joseph exclaims, “No, this is good. Crowd draws crowd.”

Dennice agreed without hesitation. Besides, recalling the dining experience we had at the original Mary’z on Richmond Ave, we think we can afford to scoff this threat. Nonetheless, the need for confirmation was strong and a casual trip to lunch there was imminent. It will not be all a matter of perspective but a matter of bias, naturally.

Enjoy the competitor

One day last week Elaine ,a good friend helping out with the restaurant payroll and other paperwork, and Dennice decided they had to satiate themselves at noon with Mary’z’s tucker. In an impromptu effort they drove over to the café. In the restaurant they were impressed by the décor which was unexpectedly well done. They ordered a falafel wrap, a plate of hummus, and some fried cauliflower. Whilst waiting for their food, Dennice notices the plastic plate is on white linen, but utters not a word about that obvious mismatch.

When the food arrived, they both bite into the falafel and reserve judgments. A favorite dish of Dennice’s is the fried cauliflower; surely, this would be the ultimate test. “Hmm…not bad,” she says aloud, but shakes her head at the watery tahini that came along with it. They turn to the hummus and note its presentation: looks as pretty and as smooth as Beirut’s, very promising, very enticing. They dip their pita bread into it with great expectation, but ,oh, so strange, something’s not right. They must indeed query and understand from Joseph the stark difference in taste.

Back at Beirut, Joseph confidently explains, “The tahini dip was adulterated with water; the hummus didn’t have the right quality tahini and olive oil; and the falafel was probably stuck together with egg.” “That’s what normally happens to save cost,”

The quality is not a good, but more clients visiting

Mary’z’s food is cheaper. Quality of food notwithstanding, Mary’z is a force to reckon with because it serves the same food and is attracting a crowd. “What is it?” Dennice asks quizzically. “Is it the hookah? Do we need to open upstairs and start serving hookah?”

How much is Beirut willing to bend and change its stance on the kind of clientele it wants? How to increase sales? What’s their snag? Dennice is unwilling to accept being a start-up being a lag behind Mary’z. There is no excuse for the financial trends she is reading after discounting every explainable line item. She thinks it is too early for Mary’z to be a real threat, but a formidable threat she would be if Beirut does nothing to improve sales, she believes.

Yelp

One yelp commentary stays in my mind: they don’t know what they want to be. This is quite a telling statement, in my opinion, one that could well be the beginning of a good future if taken to heart, even though yelp is losing its grip as the authority figure for restaurant social media feedback.

Beirut as a Lebanese restaurant is par to none in Houston. Besides the food quality, it has a clean setting, tastefully decorated with an ambience that allows one to enjoy a quiet evening (or afternoon). Perhaps therein lies the problem: our simplistic view of what makes a good restaurant is incongruous with what customers actually want. Today’s dining experience is no more defined solely by good food and good service, it seems.

In need for a destination

“The restaurant has to be a destination,” says Beirut’s new manager, Raul

These days people look for a better reason to go out and dine than just eat. For what ever reasons people visit it is obvious that it is more than cuisine they like or excellent service. Smokers go for hookah, like drinkers go to bars. Music lovers go for live performances of their favourite artiste, like game addicts head for computer arcades and cafes.

What triggers people drawn for comfort, relaxation or mental stimulation to their destination?

Can Beirut make itself a strong-enough calling destination? And for what reason? When will they know what they want to be and how will they get there? Are there any more tigers and bears to contend with?

Choon-Neo Siow

Houston

March 2015

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