August 1, 2014

How Expensive is Perfection?

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Last week I managed to chalk up 15 years of marriage, remarkably they were all consecutive and all to the same woman.  I feel more than a little smug about this achievement (how my wife feels is a moot point).

I decided that the least I could do was to take the poor soul out for dinner so I dutifully booked a table at Sat Bains’ restaurant.

I don’t suspect you have ever been to Nottingham; it is an industrial city in the heart England, a good place to live, but not on anybody’s tourist route.  But if you do ever visit you should spend an evening at Sat Bains’.  It is the only restaurant in town with two Michelin stars.  And it is perfect.  Well maybe not perfect, but I struggle to understand how good it would have to be to have three stars.

How good is the most expensive meal in the world (well Nottingham)?

Amazing.  After the taxi dropped us off a waiter opened the door and welcomed us.  He showed us to the reception area and took our coats.  The décor was perfect, not ostentatious, just muted and welcoming in the way that wood, velvet and marble seem to be.  A second waiter talked us through the menu whilst a sommelier brought us an aperitif; we sat and watched the beautiful people sipping their pre dinner drinks, wondering how we had been allowed through the door.

After just the right amount of time (I have no idea what the right amount of time is, not so fast I couldn’t finish my drink and not so slow my stomach started to rumble) we were taken to our table.

The first part of our 8 course taster menu arrived.  Two immaculately presented waiters materialised holding a plate each and placed them in front of my wife and I simultaneously.  The food was described in the menu as:


brown shrimps
apple – elderflower

It looked like a work of art, and it tasted… you will have to use your imagination.  So it went for another 7 courses.  Each course accompanied by its own, especially selected, glass of wine.

The bill, well I will leave that to your imagination as well.  But as we all know quality costs and this was verging on perfection.

Perfection always costs money

And that is OK, if you are out shopping quality is always going to cost you dearly.  The better it is, the more perfect it becomes and the more it is going to cost.  It’s a fact.  We all have a little mental map and it looks like this:

Buyer's View

And on the whole this is true, as my restaurant experience proved.  I could have gone to McDonald’s, it would have been cheaper, but they don’t stock scallop, brown shrimp, apple and elderflower burgers.  If you want sublime, it comes with a sublime price tag.

There is a little problem with our mental maps though.  Once we have developed them we rely on them, we apply them everywhere.  But they are only work from one perspective.

The world changes when you are a selling not buying

If you change your position from buyer to seller the map falls apart.

As a seller you don’t get to choose the quality, that is the buyer’s job.  Perfect is no longer about quality, it is about giving the customer precisely what they want.  Now the map looks like this…

Seller's View

Mr Bains could have easily cut the quality, chopped up a bunch of fish-fingers and poured some apple sauce on them.  It would have been cheaper in the short term, but lets be honest, Mrs Lawther wouldn’t have been hugely impressed with my attempts to woo her.  In the long run it would have cost the restaurateur dearly.  I wouldn’t have gone back.

Likewise Mr Bains could also have thrown extra quality into the deal, maybe 12 courses instead of 8, maybe a limousine to take me to and from the meal, but then again it would have just cost him money, I was quite happy to pay for a taxi.

As a seller, the cheapest place to be is when you give your customer exactly what they want, nothing more and nothing less.

Time to make your mind up

All of which begs the question…  are you buying or selling?  Once you are clear in your mind then the whole cost quality equation becomes a whole lot easier to manage.

Unless of course you are buying a fancy meal in a desperate attempt to impress (or sell yourself to) your wife, then you are kind of wearing both hats.  In which case, I respectfully suggest that you please ignore all previous advice, and get your wallet out.

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