Consumers can be rewarded, gamified, and otherwise nudged to return to your business. Yet there is something durable and inspiring about a business that uses none of those tricks, focusing instead on quality and authenticity.
A (USDA) prime example can be found within the Aaron Franklin episode of Chef Show as the principles of customer experience. The Chef show features food truck pioneer Roy Choi, and his “student” actor Jon Favreau (who studied with Choi while making his indie comedy Chef), cooking with and for various other chefs and celebrities [see this review at Eater]. Season 1, episode 7, has a lot to teach us about building a brand and customer experience. If you like to cook, if you like Barbecue, you’ll love each of the episodes, but the Aaron Franklin / Franklin BBQ episode is tremendous.
Take care as you grow to build an experience that is more than the product. Favreau, Choi, and Franklin have a lively discussion about the people that are willing to stand in line- for hours – for the product you produce. Those are not merely customers seeking a product – they are in it for the experience, and the food just won’t taste the same without that experience. Franklin began in his backyard and then later a trailer beside a Texas highway – with the opportunity (and pressure) of seeing the customer up close and personal, lining up for the product whilst knowing everything that must be done to delight each. Building anticipation, if it pays off with top quality, is the kind of experience with the potential to ignite word of mouth (ahem) –and generate growth from customer advocacy.
Community between producers and customers can be important, but to a point. Consumers in line for food is a wonderful way for customers to come together; but don’t let it get in the way of delivering a great product. I love the anecdote that Franklin BBQ “finally” was able to get their phone line completely disconnected. Why? Cooking brisket over wood is an all-night affair, and as the popularity of Franklin Barbecue escalated,the phone at the restaurant would be ringing at 3 am, with callers talking about how their own brisket efforts were going off the rails. Could that be an indicator of future demand? Franklin now offers his knowledge in books, a Masterclass video series, and now a line of Barbecue equipment.
Every bite should taste the same. “Consistency is the hardest thing we do” – preparing a brisket on Franklin’s wood-powered smokers means dealing with weather, soggy wood, and variables in the selection of meat. Franklin obsesses about how to manage those inconsistencies, so the customer never notices. He’s so open with his craft and technique, I think the only explanation is how hard it is to get that consistently right at scale. “I only made two brieksets a day back in the day…now it’s 110.” Anyone who has stood in line for hours only to learn they’ve sold out might be thinking, can we get more locations? An Eater interview from 2018 recounts how supply limits the scale of Franklin BBQ – he can’t get enough of the kind of Brisket he wants to serve, so there won’t be another restaurant opening up down the block. But the passionate following may help new generations of enthusiasts find joy in BBQ.
Even what you throw away can help link a story to your craft. I was astounded when Franklin walks through their salt and pepper dry rub and announces, “We age our pepper.” The tradecraft of producing your product can be a major advantage, and something to marvel at and weave a story around. Franklin says what kinds of pepper they use, even- as an audience for this story we can now participate in it. Quality ingredients, prepared with care.
Efficiency matters. Can you imagine the value of what can’t be used? Franklin gives a case in point: “We throw away too much pepper – 200 pounds a week.” I don’t mean to suggest throwing away pepper is specifically solvable, but Franklin clearly has this on his mind.