Friday, 27 October 2006

Steak vs Pizza

So finally and after weeks of trying my family and I achieved what I was beginning to believe might be impossible. We got into the new Spur at Riverwalk in Gaborone.

On previous occasions we’d been there in the hope of finding a table but faced with a long queue and an unknown waiting time we had given up and gone downstairs for a pizza at Primi Piatti.

Actually I’m not going to complain about not getting in at an earlier attempt because there are few things that give me more genuine, heartfelt joy than seeing a busy restaurant. There is something so satisfying about seeing people enjoying good food, good drink and good company out in public. It’s such a fundamentally human thing to do.

I’ve never actually worked in any sort of food outlet but I’ve known a few restaurant owners and I understand quite how much hard work goes into starting and maintaining the business. I also know that it takes a certain type of person either to run a restaurant or to work in one. In short someone completely unlike me. Someone who can always show a smile, make people feel welcome and who doesn’t impose his bad moods and temper tantrums on the paying customer.

So when I see a restaurant that is so busy that I can’t get a table I know something is working well and the new Spur seem to be a good example of this.

However the thing I really started thinking about was one of my favourite subjects, yet again.

Competition.

Specifically the inevitable competition that will emerge between Spur and their neighbour downstairs: Primi Piatti.

Incidentally I make no reference to either of the other two restaurants on the same floor as Spur, neither of whom ever seem to have any customers. How DO they pay the rent when they are always empty?

Anyway, back to Spur vs. Primi. Are they competitors?

Well, obviously they sell different types of food. Spur don’t serve pizza or pasta. Primi do sell steaks but they are very different to those on offer at Spur. So far, that is the only major difference between them but both satisfy a need. Sometimes I need a steak, other times I need a pizza.

It strikes me that they are targeting broadly the same community. Spur is obviously very family-oriented with balloons and a kiddie’s adventure area and the evening I visited there were dozens of little monsters (mine included) running around, making loads of noise and generally having a great time. Primi is slightly more adult-oriented but my kids love it there as well.

Also they seem to focus on similar price brackets. My feeling was that we paid pretty much what we would have paid if we had eaten downstairs.

Both have a slightly eccentric quality that I enjoy. Primi have their crazy uniforms and d├ęcor decisions, Spur have loads of noise and, well, until you’ve seen the line dancing you won’t believe it.

Finally they both seem to have focussed on what matters most to me as I write this – the customer service experience. Both have staff who you can tell have been hired and trained to be cheerful, friendly and attentive. Most importantly of all both have what I would call “active management”. Unlike certain restaurants where the manager is that faceless one hidden in the back office doing the accounts, both Primi and Spur have managers you can’t help seeing. They are constantly walking around, observing the customers, the service they are getting and, where necessary, intervening to prevent or resolve any issues that come up. Or they just smile at you, perhaps have a quick chat and generally make you feel like they are happy you are there giving them your money.

This is one of the areas where we consumers can expect to benefit. Although personally I can’t think of a way in which Primi could actually improve their service we now have a guarantee that they will maintain their standards. If they don’t we’re all likely just to go upstairs. It works the other way round as well. Spur need to get their service levels as consistently high as Primi’s so we don’t all stay down below.

So yes, I DO think they will compete with each other to some extent. However I can’t see that being a problem. They are addressing slightly different demands but I suspect that the market is big enough for both of them. My prediction is that once the novelty value of Spur has died down a little both restaurants will continue to be popular. The likely victims will be the other restaurants in the vicinity, the ones we already seem to be avoiding anyway.

My only request is that both of them try their very best to vary the menu somehow. Yes, we know they are franchises and that there are very strict controls but a little variety would be nice. I really think I could recite the Primi menu while wearing a blindfold I’m so familiar with it. Even a little variety would be good sometimes.

This week’s stars!

  • Peter and the entire crew at Spur at Riverwalk for selling us a great meal and for completely exhausting my family. I was awake for 2 hours the next morning before any of them even started to wake up. Good luck to you and keep it up!
  • Will and the crew downstairs at Primi. Don’t worry, we still love you. After all you still make the best pizza in the country.
  • Orange for speedy service in replacing a lost SIM card.
  • Kemanao at the Walmont Ambassador (sorry but it will always be The Grand Palm to many of us) for being helpful, friendly and getting a problem fixed “without a drama”!

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