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Are you adding great accompaniments to your main offering?

A confession: I love chilli sauces. All types. I always have. They add zing and spark to many meals. I’m an aficionado. I like ‘em sweet, I like ‘em savoury, I like ‘em unusual. 

It’s not the heat of the chilli that’s important, though. Too hot is not fun. A bit of kick is a given in a good chilli sauce, but it doesn’t end there. It’s what else you do to the sauce that matters. How you complement the heat, how you offset it, how you temper it. That’s where the magic lies.

Of late, I have discovered some restaurants in Nairobi that make some really excellent chilli sauces as accompaniments to their meals. A well-known cafe chain offers an excellent green sauce that adds some special ingredients to make it very more-ish. A noodle bar has dried red flakes in a smoky oil – unique. A sushi place has a sweet chilli sauce that can be eaten with pretty much anything. And a leading Indian restaurant makes a mixed pickle with dried whole red chillies as its central ingredient.

As home dining is a forced necessity in this pandemic year, I find myself ordering meals from these places often, just to get these special condiments.

But first, more about that pickle. Tasty pickles aren’t as commonplace in Nairobi as you might think. Pickle-making is an art handed down from mums and grand-mums, and it’s disappearing rapidly. Very few Indian restaurants understand the importance of a good pickle to accompany the meal.

The one that I’m referring to does, though – that’s a top pickle they provide, a good old-fashioned one. So they other day I asked them if I could buy an extra quantity and pay for it. No, they said. You only get the pickle with a meal, in a measured quantity. We don’t sell it on its own.

That got me thinking. Why would they say that? 

The condiments, let’s be clear, are not the core product. They are a nice add-on, a complement to the main offerings. And as I point out in my book, The Bigger Deal, any restaurant’s “one thing” – the thing it must get right first and foremost – is the taste of the food. The meals must taste great in the first place, and consistently so. That’s what you go for in a restaurant. Great service and a nice ambience are also needed – but only as additional elements of the customer experience. They are the outer layers of value. First, the food must taste good.

The main dishes in all the places I have indicated above are good enough to make me a repeat customer. I would buy even if the condiments were not excellent – but having great condiments makes me want to come back even more strongly. 

The condiments are my predilection; yours could be something else. Perhaps that familiar and friendly server who knows you so well; the convenient location or efficient delivery; or, for the extroverts, the social buzz.

So why wouldn’t the restaurant sell me more pickle? Perhaps it can’t be costed in their system. Or perhaps they are afraid I will take the low-value pickle and stop buying the high-value full meals – which would reveal a fundamental insecurity about their core product. If their one thing, in their own minds, is not strong enough to hold their customers, they should be worried. No restaurant survives in the absence of consistently tasty food. 

What should they have done? Sold me the pickle, with a smile. Heck, even given a jar for free. And make sure every item in the restaurant is consistently excellent, not just the pickle. There are very few people who will just buy the pickle. Those who do are bonded with your brand in any case. You will get every opportunity to show them other things to buy, once you have an ongoing relationship.

These are opportunities to create lifelong bonds with customers, and most people miss them by thinking small. 

The lessons of today’s spicy column, then? Always protect the one thing in your business – without it, you’re cooked. But add the little touches as well – the condiments that make the main course even better. Sometimes you can gain real competitive advantage by having a bunch of little complementary touches. Make these complements as complimentary as possible, and you will build unique emotional connections to layer upon your core product.

Try it and see: first figure out what the one thing you must give customers is in your business (without which you don’t have much of a business). Then add all the side features that create good feeling. Ka-ching.

(Sunday Nation, 13 September 2020)

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