The past week I’ve been enjoying fresh Mediterranean air and sunny skies in Spain’s Costa Brava. Unknown to some, Costa Brava is one of the world’s gastronomic centres, home to several of the best restaurants in the world.
I had the privilege of getting access to one of those restaurants, El Bulli. Getting a table here used to be next-to-impossible – they get over a million requests and only serve about 70k tables a year. But now it really is impossible – they’ve closed in order to transform the restaurant into a creativity centre.
Despite the barrier to entry (and thanks to Visit Costa Brava), I got an uninterrupted 45 minutes to listen to Ferran Adrià talk about running the world’s most famous restaurant. (Correction: there was an interruption….food, of course. Lived up to its reputation, as to be expected….). 😉
Ferran had an incredible wealth of information about running and owning a famous small business, and I took copious notes. Here were my takeaways – some of them you may have heard of, but they’re worth reflecting on in a foodie context.
1) Take the risks that nobody else will take. El Bulli has more staff working than guests. They were the first restaurant in Spain to ask people about illnesses or any specific preferences to adjust their degustation menu (which, mind, you is, a whopping **48** courses).
Ferran’s latest risk? Closing a restaurant that has an unparalleled reputation. What if the decision is a huge failure? (Ferran gets that this is not the question – the question is, in fact, what if this is a success?)
2) Build a powerful team of people – you can’t do it alone.
Ferran is the figurehead of El Bulli and of course much of its success stems from him. But he doesn’t do it alone. Many of the world’s best chefs have worked here – people can work in the kitchen for one year and then move on to other jobs).
One powerful thing that Ferran does to help rally his troubles is making sure his team knows how they got there, what they stand for, and where they are going. It’s all about communication. And the clearer you can get on how exactly you are planning to change the world, the easier it is to communicate that to your team.
3) Passion is required, but comes with strings attached.
I talked at length in April’s edition of SHERPA Magazine about passion (click here to signup – you can read the archives – go on, we’ll wait). You have to have it – you can’t do it just because you want to be famous. You have to love it.
Ferran said “obsession is the ailment of passion” – and this is definitely an entrepreneurial danger because launching a startup or being more successful requires running a marathon, not a sprint. To explain “obsession is the ailment of passion,” Ferran used a perfect example: when he is with his friends they can talk about things other than food. Too often, we swirl dangerously around our niche or topic, and end up getting too close – missing the forest because of the trees.
4) When pricing, know the difference between luxury and quality.
Pricing is always a difficult subject for any business owner, the only exception being a commodity where the goal is to get the cost down as low as possible. I like Ferran’s practical view on this, saying that there is a difference between luxury (e.g. expensive, exclusive, and high end) and quality (e.g. paying for a good product).
Of course relating it back to food, he says “there isn’t much of a price difference between a ‘bad’ hamburger and a ‘decent’ one.” Funny how this concept applies to so many things, doesn’t it?
5) No matter who you are, know what it’s like to do the work. One thing I work with my coaching clients is to figure out how to ‘test’ a business idea quickly and easily. (Melody also talked about it in this video during startup junkie week.) Someone in our group asked Ferran the advice they’d give someone who wanted to start a restaurant, and he said to tell them to go work in a restaurant for a month. Great advice.
6) No matter how big or small, a business has to have a structure and systems. I think a reason why many small fledgling businesses fail. As Ferran says, even if you just want to cook, you still need to know how to make ends meet, and the financial and business controls of a 1 man business are the same as a 100 person restaurant. Bottom line: you have to be organised.
7) Prepare things ahead of time if you can, and work in batches, makes it easier. This is so true – batching, esp when it comes to blogging or social media or marketing tasks, can go a lot faster in batches. Always. And working ahead helps you head off problems, issues, and unwanted surprises. It also gives some space to find serendipity.
8 ) Sharing leads to collaboration and abundance. You hear this a lot in the social media circles, but Ferran has been sharing for 20 years. He created a space where many top chefs came to cook and share ideas – the idea isn’t about competition, it is about abundance.
What happens in Costa Brava is that cooks come together to create a collaborative where like-minded people do more with the same. What kind of creative does your niche or industry need?
9) You have to keep showing up. Ferran has only been away for 20 of the days the restaurant has been open in the last 25 years. Are you THAT committed to your business?
10) Respect your customers. That is your job too. Do you love your customers? Could you love them more?
I leave you with a parting thought from Ferran that came out in response to a question asked by one of the bloggers: 11) you have to look out for yourself. Nobody else is going to – as business owners we are often quick to put customers first and always forget about ourselves. But as Ferran says:
You have to cook for yourself – if you don’t, you are crazy.
P.S. – Want to get something tasty cooking in your kitchen? Here’s how I can help.