Craftsmanship and business in the modern age

Sally Ryan for the New York Times

Pizza and a business plan

Here is a wonderful story of craftsmanship in the modern age and its interaction with business expectations. There is a very small, but reportedly excellent, pizza place in Chicago called “Great Lake”; and I learnt about it when a friend referred me to an article about its culture, its success and the consequences published by the New York Times.

The effect of extremely good reviews has been that they have been overwhelmed by demand and some customers have reacted unfavourably as a result. I think that they should stick to their guns and not compromise their principles and standards. However, this does not mean that they could not be doing some other things too!

There also seems to be an interesting systems story here!

Presumably, in the old days (whenever that was), the communication channels through which the reputation regarding the quality of the food was spread had  lower bandwidth, longer delay and greater distance dependence of the delay which tended to dampen the transmission of the reputation regarding the quality of the food and, therefore, the rate of increase in demand. If so, the signals about the consequential reputation elements regarding long queues and likelihood of not getting a table at the restaurant would have been fed back in sufficient time to moderate the demand and prevent, or at least reduce the chance of, a stampede of customers. In addition, at the next level of feedback, the gradual increase would have given the restaurant time to adjust its procedures.

In the modern age, the communication channels have much greater speed and reach; so the stampede ensues. However it is preventable if there is commensurate use of the back channel to communicate the length of queues and so on, either by customers or by the restaurant itself. The overload of the logistics of the relationship between customer and supplier also spills over into the emotions of the relationship. Not only are customers very disgruntled, but the restaurant also seems to be taking an entrenched view.

Under the circumstances, one can see how each side feels, although I have much less sympathy with the customers than with the restaurant. However, in the interview, while the restaurant is expecting the customers to respect their business objectives, I could not help feeling that a little reciprocation on the part of the restaurant might have helped the customers somewhat. To say “I knew this was sort of a wild card — the public service component.” and “But public service was definitely an unknown thing” is somewhat naïve, in this day and age, even though we might all think this way from time to time. One cannot help thinking that putting a little more thought into the customer’s view would be worthwhile. It is fine for the co-owner who is a designer to say “People are going to be people.”, but the design of the overall experience extends beyond the experience of the food and includes the service experience too.

The article refers to sites where customers are commenting on the restaurant, notably the comments on Yelp. The range of reactions is wide; they are mostly extremely complementary about the food, but much more mixed about the service. Comments like this are quite extraordinary:

If you want pizza that will make you, and likely your date weak in the knees and leaving with an ecstatic stomach, go here, bring a bottle of nice smooth red wine and plan for bliss.

and

I don’t know what people are saying about “rude”. We were only able to leave a $4 tip on a $55 tab, (because we didn’t know you can’t add tip after credit run), and the guy said, “no problem”. I told him that it is a problem, and we were going to go to ATM (in the freezing weather), and he assured us again it was not a problem. So we promised to come back soon to make up the difference. Which won’t be painful because it really is great pizza.

There are even comments suggesting more effective procedures for other customers.

For all of you willing to come on this website and complain about the long line, delay, and “rudeness,” I have no sympathy for you- if you are at all knowledgeable about Great Lake’s reputation, which I assume you are, then plan your night accordingly. What does that mean? Well, ie: get in line at 4:45, place your order, sit at a bar on Clark that allows people to bring in food (ie: Simon’s, Farragut’s), pick up your pizza when it is ready, go back to that bar, and enjoy. Was that too hard? Don’t want to do that? Well, then don’t go…. at least not on a Friday or Saturday night…

While I agree that it is not necessary for the restaurant to change and I know it might be seen as a compromise, but even thinking about the restaurant providing some information from about when it is best to go, or some advice on ordering or booking would not go amiss. Maybe a bunch of loyal customers could set something up for them?!

By John Lewis

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