Every year, for the past four, I travel down to Cali, Colombia to talk about “service innovation.” I spend a week with a group of young managers from places like Colgate-Palmolive and Cadbury Schweppes, exploring the anatomy of great service experiences. How do The Four Seasons, Starbucks and Apple Stores engineer unparalleled experience? What frustrates competitors’ efforts to copy them?
And every time I go, someone tells me, “You have GOT to have dinner at Andres Carne de Res.” This restaurant, started about 30 years ago, they say, is unlike any other you have experienced. But no one could tell me WHY the experience is so unique. And because my recent trips to Colombia never coincided with Andres’ open hours (the restaurant is only open Thursday through Sunday) I left for home still wondering what all the fuss was about.
Recently, while in Colombia delivering a workshop for HP, I finally got my chance to confirm that Andres Carne de Res really is unlike any other restaurant I have experienced. What started out feeling like the twilight zone—we were accosted by a perverted doorman and then three loud maids (read more below)—evolved into the most unusual dining experience I have ever known. I’m going to break down the restaurant’s strategy using the same framework I use to teach my “service innovation” class—the “8 Ps.”
The 8-Ps framework says that you want to look for disruptive innovations (i.e., for innovations that will differentiate you and that your competitors will choose not to copy) across eight dimensions: product, price, place, promotion, position, processes, people and physical experience. Most breakthrough companies I study are able to hit three or four of these “Ps.” Andres hits them all.
- Product: let’s start with the basics. Andres Carne de Res offers a long menu of creative dishes. We started with chunks of pork skin (“chicharrones”) served on a long, flat, wooden bowl with a side of cilantro guacamole dipping sauce. Local beers are served with a paper yellow butterfly pasted to their bottle necks. Wine is served in bottles individually hand-painted in bright colors by local artists.
- Price refers not just to actual prices but also to how they are communicated and how customers pay. When we asked for the menu our server (more gender-friendly than “waiter”) gave us a metal case about the size of shirt box. She showed me that inside was a scroll, and cranking the bottom or top handle rolled a menu up or down. It felt like an ancient Egyptian website that you scrolled down to see offerings and prices.
- Place: Andres Carne de Res is nearly 30 years old, it is packed every night it’s open and people talk about it from all over the world, but the restaurant has only two locations. One is in a distant suburb, a farm really, 30 minutes outside Bogota. Two years ago they opened their second location: a four-story maze in one of Bogota’s cheekiest shopping districts. I went to this newer location to avoid a long trip.
- Promotion: as far as I can tell, Andres does none. They rely exclusively on word-of-mouth. That is what got me there and, judging from the packed tables and dance floors, the no-promotion strategy is serving Andres just fine.
- Position: it’s hard to fit Andres into a box. The restaurant felt somewhat like an original Hard Rock Cafe, a quirky space filled with interesting pieces of art and paraphernalia. But it is more than a theme restaurant because it has three dance floors, a stage, a piano and a DJ, and actors interrupt your meal every now and then, playing funny improv scenes, which make you think of a funky Disney resort.
- Processes: behind the scenes this multi-sensory experience is supported by an uncommon orchestration. I could not figure out how they engineered it, but we must have been helped over the evening by at least seven different people who passed us off as seamlessly as the Brazilian World Cup team passes around a ball. In college I spent three years waiting tables and came to understand that the best way to guarantee a seamless experience is to dedicate one server to each table. Andres proves this dogma wrong.
- People: when we walked through the restaurant’s door I was a bit surprised by the characters hanging out trying to get in. One, wearing a bandana, thin mustache and a suit that looked something like a security guard’s uniform, was offering in a loud voice to pat down women visitors for weapons. At the stair landing, three women dressed as maids commented loudly that whoever had ironed my shirt did a terrible job and offered to take care of it for me. About a third of Andres’ 1,000 or so employees seem to be actors. Their job is simply to play interesting characters and entertain the guests all night.
- Physical experience: finally, Andres has created a physical experience that I cannot truly describe. I lack the skill to give it justice with my words. There were fresh cut roses hanging on strings above our heads, butterfly-shaped confetti fell from the sky, industrial metal staircases led you from “hell” up to “purgatory” then to “heaven” (a huge fireplace sat on a landing between hell and purgatory and a 10-foot-tall bust of Jesus hung from the Heaven floor [ceiling?]). As the DJ’s music displaced the eating, as diners abandoned tables for dance floors, the restaurant evolved, revealing layers and layers of intricate surprises.
The case of Andres Carne de Res suggests that you consider at least two things. First, of course, get yourself to Bogota and experience it for yourself. Second, look for what you can do across all eight dimensions to design a truly unparalleled, disruptive customer experience.
What are you doing now that (a) customers love but (b) competitors will not copy:
- 1. Your product
- 2. How to price, communicate prices and collect payment?
- 3. How you promote?
- 4. How to distribute (place)?
- 5. Where you position yourself relative to competitors?
- 6. Your processes?
- 7. The people you hire and inspire?
- 8. The physical experience you create?
Kaihan Krippendorf (www.kaihan.net), a founding Fellow of the Center for Leadership and an adjunct professor in the College of Business Administration, is the author of Hide a Dagger Behind a Smile and The Way of Innovation. This article was originally written as an entry for his FastCompany.com blog “The Outthinker: Mavericks that Out Innovate the Competition.” The opinions expressed in this column are the writer’s and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of either FIU or the College of Business Administration.
View all articles by Kaihan Krippendorff.