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A tale of two Italian restaurants

I have a weakness for pasta and red sauce (Sunday Gravy, for you Italians), so on two recent business trips in the same week, I went out in search of a meal that would put a smile on Tony Soprano's mug.

The first restaurant was in an uptown environment, had a nice façade, an expansive wine list, a cozy atmosphere and a well-dressed staff. After a good glass of Super Tuscan red, my expectations were high. Unfortunately, the food tasted like it came out of a can. Maybe it did! The quality wasn't consistent with the image. I left frustrated and won't go back.

The second restaurant was in a strip mall. When I walked in, I saw hundreds of bottles of private label red wine sitting out (some in the sun), red-checked vinyl tablecloths and a casually dressed waitstaff. The red wine I ordered - only one type available by the glass - arrived hot (red wine should be served at about 65 degrees). The plate of spaghetti was huge and had a meatball that could've been used on the Pro Bowlers Tour. There were a few loud kids in the restaurant, and some people looked like they put on their Sunday best while others were bikers. I thoroughly enjoyed my meal.

When I was in college, I was so poor I ate Tuna Helper without the tuna, but I'm now a bit of a "foodie" and like good wine. So why was I happy with restaurant No. 2? Because I knew exactly what I was getting when I walked in the door - they were entirely consistent. I also admired how fast they got people in and out, how efficient and friendly the waitstaff was, how much value customers received and how many smiling faces there were. They had achieved strategic alignment.

Restaurant No. 1? Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. I won't be back. If the strategy was to have an upscale experience, they completely missed a key element - the consistent application of this strategy. Remember when the airlines used to brag in television commercials about how great their service was but reality was closer to a cattle car with wings?

Is your strategy consistently executed? If your vision and strategy aren't clear to your team members, they'll get confused and frustrated. If your intent is to be a low-cost provider (e.g., restaurant No. 2), don't try to fool your customers into thinking they're getting a highbrow experience. If your strategy is to provide uniquely high-quality or great service and your image portrays that, you'd better follow through.

Customers who expect Château Pétrus but get Lancers will vote with their feet.
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Todd Ordal

Todd Ordal is President of Applied Strategy LLC. Todd helps CEOs achieve better financial results, become more effective leaders and sleep easier at night. He speaks, writes, consults and advises on issues of strategy and leadership. Todd is a former CEO and has led teams as large as 7,000. Follow Todd on Twitter here. You can also find Todd at http://www.appliedstrategy.info,  303-527-0417 or todd@appliedstrategy.info

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