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The perils of specialization

David Sneed //November 30, 2011//

The perils of specialization

David Sneed //November 30, 2011//

It was Buena Vista on a Saturday night, so I didn’t expect much anyway. When we saw it there, standing out like a bay window in a favela, my wife spoke first: “That looks good.”

I agreed. Our only other option for dinner was the Mix and Match – 2 Hot Dogs for $2.49 deal at the 7-11, and after a long holiday weekend, neither of us was feeling that adventurous.

Tastefully painted words on the windows called to us: Top Sirloin! – Prime Rib!, and just the right number of white Christmas lights beckoned from within the fresh pine garland under the eaves. I had to admit it; this restaurant was cute even though it probably had other names before. As we were chaperoned to a booth in the corner, I could see my wife’s practiced eye taking in our surroundings, and I saw her skepticism wane as she scanned the cozy, warm and dark red leather décor.

The menu was the first surprise, but we couldn’t fault them for unfair advertising. Our choice was either top sirloin or prime rib – and either a baked potato or no potato at all. “What salad dressings do you have?” I asked – to which the waitress answered: “Homemade Ranch or nothing.” I can appreciate a business that specializes, and I looked forward to a meal from a restaurant that obviously knows its beef.

The second surprise came shortly after the touch-too-sweet-but-still-delicious Ranch dressing’d salad. Four delicate fillets of wet grey meat (surrounded by the baked potato and some Bibb lettuce) looked weakly up at me. One may have coughed slightly in my direction, but I couldn’t be sure.

I’ve seen steak cooked all sorts of ways in my 42 years: broiled, grilled, pan-fried, bbq’d, ka-bobbed; I’ve even seen it sun cooked on a hot desert rock. The Top Sirloin I had before me wasn’t any of these. At first I thought maybe they accidentally boiled it, and then, naturally, I wondered if it was even possible to cook steak in a dishwasher.

Like I said before, I get it that you want to specialize. After all, KFC started that way, and so did Starbucks and Ford Motor Company. Specialization allows you to focus on being the best at your one thing – always a good strategy for market domination. The difference, of course, is that the KFC’s fried chicken legs are really, really good. A poor business strategy, on the other hand, is having only one product – steak – and making it resemble the bottom of a swimming pool.

Here’s the problem with specialization in general, and this restaurant in particular. The next time I’m in Buena Vista around supper time, I can’t rationalize that “Maybe I just picked the wrong dish.” It was a steak restaurant with exactly two items, both bad. Too often pundits lament the company that does everything, without even a nod to the terrible results available at specialty shops.

If you have only one product, you have to do it well. It’s like Mark Twain said: “If you put all your eggs in one basket; watch that basket!”

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