The Brand Experience

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I visited Napa recently for nearly a week of eating, drinking and touring. For years, I have wanted to go, so when we finally scheduled the trip, with an incredible itinerary, our expectations were high. The “Napa experience” is legendary, and we were not disappointed. The trip was everything I hoped for – great weather, food that tasted like it came from the garden just hours earlier, friendly people and wines that made me wish I could give it all up and cultivate vines for a living. The trip was all that I expected … except for The French Laundry.

I’ll admit upfront that I’m not a “foodie,” but I do enjoy great food and have been to enough notable restaurants, both here and abroad, to be able to distinguish a truly excellent dining experience from one that is mediocre. The French Laundry was a huge disappointment – and not necessarily because of the food, but because of the whole experience. To start with, the place lacks atmosphere. We were first sat in the equivalent of an upstairs bedroom next to a staircase. When we asked to be moved, our waitress had to check with the chef (??!!), but we were finally moved to a table at the bottom of the staircase. The whole tone of the experience seemed to be about what we couldn’t do – we couldn’t adjust the menus, we couldn’t open more than two bottles of wine that we brought, etc. – all spoken to us in hushed tones that made us feel like we were in church, or at a funeral. Where was the joy?

Then the food came. We ordered from a tasting menu with nine courses, so we were prepared to eat like kings and queens. Instead, we ate like paupers. I have never seen such beautiful plates with so little food – including some notable restaurants in France. For one dish, my husband literally received one tiny beet the size of a small grape – that was his entire course!! The four of us were appalled. This happened over and over again, course after course. I was sitting with two big guys, and they were starving. The French Laundry web site says: We want you to say, “I wish I had one more bite of that.” Well, they got their wish, but for all the wrong reasons!!

So, pure taste aside (how much can you mess up one beet?), the French Laundry experience was a failure. It was an experience that I call, “The Laundry Has No Clothes.” I can’t believe that people rave about a place that can miss the mark on so many things that make up a great meal, including adequate food (two beets perhaps?!), a warm and welcoming atmosphere and the desire to ensure your guests’ enjoyment. After three hours and nine “tastes”, we ended up leaving and going out to dinner (again) at Lucy, where we delighted in gourmet burgers, lobster risotto, and more than two bottles of wine!

In technology marketing, we often talk about features and functionality, but at the end of the day, products and services are successful when users have a good experience – an experience that they want to repeat, talk about (positively) and recommend. We all know the brands that have figured this out – tech and otherwise. Maybe it’s time for the French Laundry to do the same.

Post by Michelle Pujadas
Zer0 to 5ive Founder and Co-CEO
Twitter: @pujadas

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