Why the Middle of the Road is for Road Kill

The French Laundry in Napa Valley, California is consistently ranked among the top five restaurants in the country.  Celebrity chef Thomas Keller spares no expense in making the food and dining experience pure perfection.  Even with a price tag of up to $500 per person, this premier bistro is sold out every single night.

The restaurant accepts reservations exactly 60 days in advance.  The phone lines open at 10:00 am, and by 10:03 every seat is reserved.  There’s a cottage industry around these high-demand seats, with scalpers reselling reservations on eBay and even French Laundry Reservation Consultants emerging to help you snag a table — for a fee, of course.

The restaurant’s incredible success is due to its commitment to being the absolute best.  It’s the epitome of fine dining.  At the same time, thousands of unremarkable restaurants offering good food and value struggle for business.  Having food that is just decent, service that is just fine, and an atmosphere that’s just acceptable is a simple recipe for failure.

Diners – and consumers of all goods and services – crave offerings at the edges.  They want the “est.”  The cheapest.  The coolest.  The fastest.  The boldest.  Middle-of-the-road, mediocre solutions may feel like a safe choice to provide to your customers, but you’ll likely end up like the hapless squirrel who enjoys napping in the middle of crowded highway.

Wal-Mart offers a gigantic selection at the lowest prices.  Apple offers products that are the sleekest and simplest.  Cirque du Soliel offers breathtaking shows that push the performing arts and human creativity to impossible heights.  Each of these wildly successful companies reached their potential by going to extremes.

Trying to serve all customer needs simultaneously will dilute the potency of your offerings.  It’s the business equivalent of making a pot of soup with every single ingredient in your fridge and pantry.  A much more productive approach is to stand out in a big way.

Which area of your business will be your point of intense differentiation?  Quality?  Price?  Speed? Customer experience? Service?  And what about you as a person?  Which area is your personal point of distinction?

Thomas Keller built his incredible restaurant empire around unparalleled culinary excellence while the also-rans barely keep the lights on.  Connect with a bold vision that offers some form of edge-of-the-road value to customers.  It may just be the thing that allows you to break away from the competition and drive unprecedented success.  No road kill cleanup required.