A Little Place Far Away with a Lot of Heart: What the Restaurant Industry can Learn from “Andrés Carne de Res”

25 Apr 2006|Miguel Winebrenner

Have you ever heard of a place called Andrés Carne de Res? You probably haven’t because it’s in a little town called Chía in the outskirts of Colombia’s capital, Bogotá (33 degrees North, 95 degrees West). But to those of us who do know the place, its located square in the middle of our hearts. And to marketers, it is a reminder that it is possible to create meaningful experiences that transcend country of origin, ethnicity, age, and gender.

Andrés Carne de Res (“Andrés”) is difficult to translate, but for reference, in Spanish it sounds something like Jake’s Porterhouse Steaks. But, it’s not at all like it sounds. When you walk into the place you get bombarded by multiple themes including salsa and merengue music, circus-looking artifacts, and a mix of Hacienda and Finca architectures. Once you are taken to a table there are more unique nuances. The menu, which features mostly meats and typical Colombian dishes, is a rolled up in a small tin box that needs to be cranked every time you want to look at any of the quick service or gourmet meals. Matchboxes, if you order them, look like a wooden roll of quarters with the matches inside while the lid is a recycled cap from a Coca-Cola bottle.

So it’s a great place, but there are many fun and unique places with great food in the world, right? True, but what makes Andrés stand out is that people who’ve been there actually value their experience. Not the steaks, not the music, not the ambience; not even the unique mix of cultures—they value and remember their experience. And they keep coming back for more, weekend after weekend for years at a time. People here in the U.S. who have gone tell me all the time, “That was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had.” But they don’t say it like people usually say it, they say is as if they really mean it.

So why is the experience at Andrés so unique? The minute you walk into Andrés, you feel is as if you are walking into a modern day/urban version of Macondo, Gabriel García Marquez’s imaginary town where magic and realism blend seamlessly together. From the mixed sounds of porro, merengue and The Beatles to the carnival-attired staff, Andrés is all about feeling festive. It is not just that the food is delicious and its presentation impeccable; it’s that the place has a contagious personality that invites people from all ages to come in, eat, drink, dance and sing to among other things, the Colombian National Anthem! No joke, on any given Sunday, Andrés hosts hundreds of young couples, grandparents, children and local celebrities all seeking to experience a little of this unique place’s elusive magic.

Andrés is a place that encompasses the true heart of a great parranda (a Colombian term to describe a huge party), the contagious energy of the cumbia and the uniqueness of crossing a threshold where you can leave the ordinariness of your life behind and let your hair loose for a couple of hours. It is no wonder that whenever a lot of Bogotanos (Bogotá natives) living overseas think of home, they immediately think of Andrés. As do foreigners who’ve had the chance to visit.

And that is the relevance of Andrés to strategic conversations in the restaurant industry- providing meaningful experiences as a way to drive sales. Most restaurants in the U.S. (from QSRs to family-style to gourmet establishments) are providing experiences that revolve around tangible aspects of the industry—quality, food, price, and service. But the market is cannibalized by businesses offering this same set of benefits. Consumers today are looking for intangible benefits as well; they want a great meal, good service, nice decoration, and they want to feel something that transcends the one-dimensional restaurant experience.

Some things are easier said than done. The notion of providing a lasting experience is something that’s been discussed using other terms for some time. However, little-known places like Andrés are driving innovation because they design their service around what’s meaningful to people. Unfortunately, the current design in the restaurant industry is one in which consumers have more meaningful experiences from the anticipation of visiting a restaurant than by the actual visit. TV commercials depict and create tangible and intangible dreams but often times the experience is not at par with the dream. This disparity leads to disenchantment, and this in turn leads businesses to spend more money getting people’s attention (again) and asking them to come back.

The restaurant industry is undeniably growing, but the opportunity to differentiate is enormous– those in the business who harness meaning and leverage it with anticipation will lead the way for innovation. Andrés is a little place in a remote location that has good music, food, service, ambience, and price BUT it means heart and soul to those who have visited. What does your restaurant mean to your customers?

Visit Andrés Carne de Res

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