Why Can’t Restaurants Get the Bread Thing Right!

Posted on by in Business, Creativity/Innovation, Customer Service, Design, Remarkability

Have you ever noticed that sometimes it’s the little things that make all of the difference? For example, earlier this afternoon my wife and I went out for lunch after church to a local California Pizza Kitchen (I love their Thai Chicken Pizza).  But as we were waiting, the server asked us if we wanted some bread.  We said, "Yes."  After which she brought us some incredibly lame white bread.

Now, I have nothing against white bread (flour, yeast, etc.) but like the bread at most restaurants, the bread was . . . well, ordinary.  There was nothing remarkable about it. It filled the "bread" slot, but it was just plain old boring bread.  And that’s a bad thing.

I keep wondering, "Why don’t restaurants get this?"  Long before you or I eat our main course, the first thing that most restaurants serve us is . . . bread. It’s the first taste experience we have with a restaurant.  So if the bread is just ordinary, that experience has already set our expectations for the rest of our meal. Why would any restaurant want to do this poorly?

Fortunately some restaurants get this.  For example, O’Donnells serves rum cakes and cornmeal muffins in its bread baskets (and they’re awesome).  In fact, and this goes to my point, I’m almost willing to go to O’Donnell’s just to eat the rum cakes (the rest of the meal is almost incidental). Or at Wolfgang Pucks, you’re served a series of different flat breads and you think, "Hey, this is pretty cool!"  Why?  Because it’s different.  And the amazing thing about bread is, it’s not that difficult to make.  Why California Pizza Kitchens (along with most restaurants) doesn’t get this, I don’t know.  But every time I eat at their restaurant I think, "This bread is so lame," which is probably not what the executives who run California Pizza Kitchens want one of their customers thinking.

Now some of you might be thinking, "But bread is such a little thing, who cares?" Well we all should.  Why? Because our experience with a restaurant (or any other business) is made up of every point where there is a momentary experience with that restaurant.  It’s not just the main course, it’s the lighting, the ambiance, the servers, the cutlery, the menu, the smells, the interior design, the restroom, the hand towels, the table cloth, the napkins, the appetizers, the time it takes for a server to refill our water glass, etc., and part of that includes the bread.  What that means then is that smart businesses manage every one of those points to make sure they’re remarkable.

A classic illustration of this in the product world is the iPod.  Not only is the iPod remarkable, but the package it comes in is incredible as well. Did Apple need to invest in designing a great box for the iPod?  Yes! Why? Because it adds to the whole value proposition.  In fact, I even kept the box.  Why?  Because it’s remarkable (unlike all of the other product boxes I’ve thrown out).

So back to your business.  What "little thing" do you do just like everyone else? What is your "bread" item? Once you have that item in mind, how can you take that and differentiate it?  How can you make it so different that when a customer has an experience with your company they’re going to say to their friends, "You won’t believe how this company does this . . . It’s such a little thing, but it really is amazing.  In fact, it’s remarkable."

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3 Responses to “Why Can’t Restaurants Get the Bread Thing Right!”

  1. Phil Gerbyshak 5 March 2006 at 11:35 pm #

    Great point Bruce. It is the little things that make the biggest difference, especially if these little things are the “first things” we experience. Little things like:
    “Is the bathroom clean at a gas station?” make a big difference.
    And on a bread note…I totally agree with you. Good bread makes all the difference!

  2. djchuang 10 March 2006 at 1:48 pm #

    If you’re into the bread thing, then you’d definitely notice the bread at restaurants as your first impression. I’m more of a drinks person, so that’s more of my impression maker. And, you’ve got to check out our local area franchise Great American Restaurants http://www.greatamericanrestaurants.com/ — next time you eat out across the Potomac River, since their restaurants are all in Virginia for now, and each serve a variety of breads from Best Buns Bread Co.

  3. Keith Wright 23 March 2006 at 6:20 pm #

    You are right on this one! We just hired a new Director of Facilities and Technology, Jack Walston, at First Presbyterian Church of Orlando. One of his responsibilities is to oversee our food service operation. The first idea he interjected into the operation was this . . .
    He asked our cook to make hot, fresh cinnamon rolls just as the main course is being served. Then about 10 minutes into the congregation’s meal, he has a few volunteers walk through the Fellowship Hall with baskets of fresh cinnamon rolls. (It smells like the mall when Cinnabon is baking theirs). As the volunteers use place the hot, fresh cinnamon rolls on people’s plates with tongs, our members have been just going crazy! “Wow, this food service is great!” One simple idea. One huge impact!
    Keith Wright

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