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GNG – “Good, Not Great”

“It was good, not great.”

How many times have you found yourself saying this after a dining experience? Not spoken in anger, but simply stated as a matter of fact. It wasn’t terrible, but it was certainly uninspired and unmemorable. The bottom line, it could have and should have been better.

We have often found ourselves saying this and we refer to it as “GNG”, good, not great. We have been fortunate to have had many times where we stop and say, “Wow, this is great!” These are the moments that all of us want to have. These are the moments that create long lasting memories. These are the kind of experiences that inspired us to start our blog and share our excitement with others. We are not alone, the world of Twitter and Facebook is full of people with this same desire. The desire to be inspired by something, somewhere or someone. So, what is it that makes something great? And why is it so hard to find?

It is obviously far easier to be good than it is to be great. Certain things by their very nature are good. Pizza, hamburgers, Mexican food and bacon all taste good even if prepared by a rank amateur if one were hungry enough. So, opening an average pizza joint would be plenty adequate for a large number of people and would likely be financially successful if it were in the right location. To us, great financial success does not mean that something is great. It doesn’t even mean something is good. But should financial success be the goal? We do not feel that it should. We believe that great things are the fulfillment of passions and that the success comes as a result of inspiring others.

From our standpoint what makes a restaurant great?

Quality – Great food is subjective to some degree, but we believe that it is a lot more objective than most people actually think. If presented with a truly great dish we believe that most people would be more in agreement than disagreement. Being great usually requires that someone has travelled and experienced the life, culture and food in other cities. How does your pizza really stack up to the best NYC pizza? How does your sushi compare with Uchi? So you make doughnuts, have you been to Voodoo?  You would be surprised to know how many of your customers have and they can tell the difference.

Service – Service is free. This is one of our biggest issues with many restaurants. Treating your customers with respect and kindness should be a given. Yet, it is so often lacking. Nothing will guarantee someone won’t return to your restaurant more than being treated rudely. The taste left in your mouth from bad service lasts far longer than that of poorly cooked food. Great service isn’t necessarily formal either. We’ve had some of our best service in casual restaurants. It is being attentive, knowledgeable and adaptable. If something unforeseen goes wrong, they can “make it right”. They know the menu inside and out, how the food is prepared, and can offer helpful suggestions.

Atmosphere – Is the design of the restaurant thoughtful or an after thought? Is this a place that you want to return to?

Consistency – If you love a dish you want it to taste the same when you have it again and again (and again).

Originality – Being great is not often derivative. Simply copying what someone else is doing in another city does not make something great. Sure you may have the first Norwegian cuisine or Nose-to-Tail dining in your city, but that alone doesn’t make it great. It doesn’t even make it unique. It just makes it unusual for your city.

Attention to Detail  – There are many moving parts to any business, but is seems like the restaurant business has more than most of the others. Managing all of these moving parts and being aware of them makes all the difference.

Passion – Being great has to be an intentional goal. The passion is the critical component, the financial success may be the outcome of the greatness but it cannot be the reason for being. Being great can also change neighborhoods and cities. From Paul Kahan and Rick Bayless in Chicago to Tom Douglas in Seattle to Barbara Lynch in Boston to Tyson Cole in Austin, these people have brought many truly great unique establishments to their cities and have changed the culinary landscape in each.

So, strive for greatness, take the time to hone your skills and do the hard work that it takes day in and day out. It won’t be easy, but it will be worth it.

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