Hong Kong is a culinary paradise. You can eat here almost anything, the quality is great, and the price is low. Major difference with European restaurants is the perception of service. In Europe we are accustomed to long evenings in restaurant with several courses, about half an hour between each course, a lots of wine, beer, or coffee at the end. Perception of service is about personnel being polite, knowledgeable, sociable. Also comfy chairs and tables, with enough space in between. Slow service is ok, even integral part of having relaxing evening, as long as it is not excessive. We don’t mind paying hefty price, but we also usually prefer eating at home because of it.
In Hong Kong, on other hand, perception of service is almost opposite. First and foremost, Hongkongers expect speed and food quality. Eating in restaurant saves time. Everything else seems secondary, as long as we are not talking about high-profile, more western-style type of restaurant.
An extreme example is Australia Dairy Company restaurant. It is a fast-paced, authentic place – more than 30 years old – where you can have very tasty scrambled eggs with toast! There seem to be a permanent row of people standing in front.
The most remarkable aspect of this restaurant is not efficiency, but effectiveness. A crucial difference with most other Hong Kong restaurants is that others try to service as fast as possible. But, the goal in this one is to have you as a customer as soon as possible back on the street. In 30 years they are continuously perfecting the concept of getting things done. I think it is possible to go through whole “process” in less than 10 minutes.
My wife and I were placed at already occupied table. A couple at our table lives nearby, and comes to this restaurant almost every week for many years. Customers are serviced by middle-aged men, and money is handled by two women at the entrance. Effectiveness is so extreme, that there is no time for being polite. I was even suddenly insulted because I didn’t order my dish as expected. In speed and confusion, I was misunderstood and 2 minutes later my dish arrived, which I didn’t order. In second attempt, the waiter made another assumption really fast and I received a wrong dish again. Finally, after rudely pointing with my finger at someone else’s dish, and 1 minute later I received my dish. After each try, a number is written on a very small piece of paper, which replaced the old one. This is our total price.
We were probably the slowest customers of all and still finished in about 25 minutes. The payment process by two women at the entrance is also remarkable. There is no electronic equipment, and therefore only cash is accepted. We are serviced by both of them at the same time. One takes care of coins and other of paper bills. They are shouting amount to each other, and how much it should be returned. The communication is very intensive and constant. The whole payment took about 5 seconds, and we were back on street.
This restaurant understands why customers keep coming here. It is all about getting you back on the street and filled belly with simple, cheap, but delicious dish. It is not about technology, fancy menus, and a good looking meal. Also, efficiency is more a side-effect of being effective.
In restaurant business, customers are ready to pay for “extras” to have an experience. Unfortunately, we don’t have this luxury in corporate world. This restaurant understands the importance of getting things done better than most enterprises today.
There were mistakes in the process twice, rudeness, but at the end I was very satisfied with a simple high quality dish, and back on street really fast. The performance of the end result is much more important than any step in the process. Should they try to be more polite and not make mistakes? Probably not. This, so called quality of service improvement, would possibly result in lower quality seen from end result. It takes time to be polite and try prevent mistakes; also from cost perspective. Two unpaid dishes occasionally cost less than lower throughput of customers.
In corporate world, and specially architecture aspect of it, we are causing slower throughput of value and very bad perceived quality because of our efforts to improve the steps. There is also way too much “fanciness” at cost of end-quality in a world that should not permit any fanciness. In other words, introducing “advanced” technologies with long lead time (implementation time), while occasionally making easily reparable mistakes is often cheaper. Despite mistakes in restaurant, the total time and cost was still low.
Instead, the corporate world needs high quality scrambled eggs. The customers in corporate world never ask for high-profile diner with lots of wine, hefty price, too many calories, and a hangover the next day.