Le Manoir Aux Quat'Saisons Vs. Pizza Express. Who Serves Wins.
Storytelling by Andy Goram, Bizjuicer
Recently, my wife and I were very fortunate to spend a weekend at Raymond Blanc’s, Le Manoir Aux Quat’Saisons, in Oxfordshire, celebrating a good friend’s 50th birthday. As a keen Foodie, going to Le Manoir was a substantial box ticked on my bucket list. We experienced truly world class food, drink and service in an amazing setting, as you’d expect. But it led me to make some rather bizarre (or at least I initially thought) and positive comparisons, to a recent visit to a Pizza Express. Let me explain.
Firstly, the food. Can I really compare the taste, quality and presentation offered up by the two venues? Frankly, “no”, I can’t. But then I wouldn’t expect to. Le Manoir laid in front of us all manner of the freshest, tastiest and most beautiful looking treats we could have imagined. Every mouthful brought forth a different experience for our mouths to enjoy. The provenance and story behind every ingredient explained to us politely and with no hint of a condescending, superior tone. It was an absolute joy.
At Pizza Express, my wife and I were due to go to the theatre and were therefore looking for a conveniently located quick stop. The food was, as you might expect. The starters were a little smaller than we’d expected, but they arrived quickly, and they tasted ok. My main course salad was fine and my wife’s pizza looked and tasted very nice. You’d expect that of the hero dish. But nothing that had us grabbing our phones and excitedly creating the next Insta-post.
Score: A strong 1-0 to Le Manoir
Now to the drink! I don’t know how Le Manoir clean their glassware. But it must be with some magical wonder-product, because no matter what you order, when you drink it out of that Manoir glass, it tastes like the greatest version of it you’ve ever had. We also jumped onto a wine flight with our evening meal and what a journey that was. Every bottle presented came with a personal story, told enthusiastically and warmly by our Sommelier, let’s call him Max for the purposes of this story. Max listened to questions asked by the group (who were getting more confident with each passing round!) and answered them all, courteously, graciously and with good humour. It really added something to the dining experience. If you ever get the chance to do it – grab it.
At Pizza Express, the standard glass of Pinot Grigio and Peroni Reserva arrived ice cold and pretty quickly and were served in clean glasses. Not a lot more to add. We got what we ordered, in good time and it was served with a smile. Good enough.
Score: 2-0 to Mr Blanc.
And finally, to the service. Throughout our Manoir experience we were very well looked after by, what seemed like, our very own host / Maitre’D. Let’s call him Simon. From the moment we arrived, where he helped us secrete ourselves for the big “surprise” moment when the guest of honour arrived, through lunch, dinner and an after dinner bar session, that probably went on longer than he’d of liked (though he never showed it), Simon was the perfect host.
He was engaging, polite, seen and unseen, funny, informative, professional, passionate and incredibly well-presented. A real credit to the organisation. He shared stories about the food, the kitchen, the grounds and his personal life. He spoke to individuals and to the group as a whole. He made each one of us feel important and part of a bigger experience. He was incredibly impressive. But what was most impressive, to me at least, was how he found “our level” very quickly. He’d sensed we were a fun group and tailored his interactions with us accordingly, but they were always “on-brand”. Emotional intelligence and the ability to use those softer personal skills naturally, are sometimes hard to find. But Simon had both in spades, and our experience was swept along beautifully as he used them effortlessly.
And what of our service experience at Pizza Express? Well, this is where my comparison takes a turn. From the very first interaction with, let’s call him Toby, our waiter, he knew we were on a time deadline, because he asked us, but, and here’s the kicker, he still managed to give us a very personal, professional service experience, that didn’t feel rushed at all, and still got us in and out on time.
He took time to talk to us in the gaps between courses, which made any wait feel shorter. He was doing this with all his tables, though you could see he tailored his approach with each one. Some, like us, enjoyed a chat, others just wanted a more functional approach. He asked us questions, and in the space of the 45-minute meal, got to know us a little bit, and shared some bits about him. He was a student, who’d decided to take a year out before trying to pursue a career in marketing, to earn some money. He really enjoyed working for the company and in particular his manager. She was, apparently, very supportive of Toby and had made a point when hiring him to make it clear that his job was to talk to customers and make them happy and comfortable. From listening to Toby the result was clear. Happy customers, more recommendations and returning customers, better tips and a hard, but enjoyable workday that flies by.
In both instances the thing that my wife and I have talked about the most afterwards and have since shared with our friends, was the engaging, personal, tailored service we received in each place. One from one of the world’s most renowned gastronomic venues and the other from our local version of one of our most enduring, casual dining brands. I can’t recall the names of all the food and drink consumed in either visit – but I can tell you all about Max, Simon and Toby and how they made us feel.
Final Score: 3-1 to The Manoir, but a great showing from both in the final third
So, what’s the point of comparing these two heavily contrasting offers, playing at very different ends of the pricing scale?
Well, to me it comes down to these few important points, no matter at which end of that scale you operate:
Never underestimate how powerful appropriate, relevant engagement, not just service, with your customers is. It’s a massive multiplier of the overall experience.
As a customer, having a genuine, personal experience is what moves happiness or NPS scores from passive to promoter, more often than not. Even when other things are weak, or mistakes happen, personal attention can have a positive halo effect on the whole experience.
Make sure, don’t assume, that your employees know just how important they are to a customer’s experience and the reputation and ultimate success of your brand or business?
Take time to tell them and more importantly, show them that regularly. Your business will reap the benefits as a result.
In the service industry particularly, hire the personality and train the skills. It’s almost impossible the other way around.
Andy Goram is the owner of Bizjuicer – a consultancy that believes people are the often-forgotten internal fuel that can power businesses and brands to greater success. He helps businesses build stronger brands through engaged and aligned people and consults on customer experience ,vision & values, cultural and transformational change, brand & proposition development and employer branding.