A Lesson from the World's Best Restaurant
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Spain’s El Bulli was considered the world’s best restaurant, once receiving two million requests in a single day for reservations. A very successful business owner procured one such reservation – and told me of an important lesson for advisors.
Originally a beach bar, El Bulli operated from 1964 until July of last year in a small town 100 miles outside of Barcelona. Open from June to December, its total annual capacity was 8,000 diners. On one day each October, it took reservations for the following year – and on that day had the remarkable two million requests.
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In the decade leading to its closing last year, El Bulli was ranked as the world’s top restaurant an unprecedented five times by industry standard-maker Restaurant Magazine. Despite that, it never made money as a restaurant – and was only able to stay open due to revenue from sale of cookbooks and lectures by its owner. One reason it lost money was that it employed 40 chefs –to prepare meals for 70 diners!
The lesson from El Bulli does not relate to why it ultimately failed, but to how its owners reinforced their image and brand awareness.
A unique invitation
The conversation about El Bulli emerged from my discussion with a highly successful entrepreneur (let’s call him Mark) about how to engage customers.
Due to his extensive travel, Mark is a member of the exclusive club who hold an American Express “Centurian” charge card, also known as the “black card.” With an initiation fee of several thousand dollars and a $2,500 annual fee, the black card (supposedly made of titanium) is clearly not for everyone, but for very frequent travelers its personal concierge and range of exclusive services merit the investment. As an aside, Amex doesn’t give a black card to just anyone – there are minimum spending requirements and the average cardholder has income and net worth of $1 million and $10 million respectively.
In early 2010, Mark got an email from American Express. Amex had been able to secure an evening at El Bulli later that year for black card holders. For a mere $1,800 per person, provided that he acted quickly, he and his wife could be part of this group. By coincidence, they were scheduled to be in Barcelona on holiday on the date of the dinner. One hurried phone consultation and email later – and their reservation was confirmed.