How to Know When Your Business Should Make a Change
There is a family-owned restaurant in Orlando named Linda's La Cantina Steakhouse. This eatery has been serving steaks from the same location on a busy stretch of Colonial Drive since 1947. It has rerisen from burn-it-to-the ground ashes and survived a contentious divorce.
(Early building courtesy of La Cantina's Facebook page)
But what makes this gem so memorable is what it doesn't do.
How does this restaurant not just survive-- but thrive – in an industry known for skinny margins, low wages, and high competition?
Full disclosure. I have no knowledge of their financials or internal operations. My observations are purely as a customer.
What Linda's La Cantina Doesn't Do
Until recently, they didn't take reservations. You were simply added to the (very) long wait list and stood outside -- rain, shine, summer heat, winter chill – waiting.
They have taken a big leap by now accepting reservations. But no fancy OpenTable app for these folks. We're talking text or phone call.
Even with these low-tech, limited options, they make it work. We have used the text reservations several times, and they're quick to respond even when the restaurant is closed. I have no idea what their backend process looks like, but it's an effective first step.
Even with reservations, the walk-in demand seems to be unchanged. On a recent Saturday, 4 of us had 5:00 reservations. (5:00. I know. That's another story.) But here's the amazing part. La Cantina opens at 4:00. At 5:00 the dining room was full, and the wait time for non-reservations was 2-3 hours. Did customers walk away because of the long wait? No. They patiently stood outside on a chilly evening – and waited.
The décor is retro in an authentic way. Black checkered tablecloths look right at home without being tacky.
The wall murals and framed photographs pay homage to their history in the community. No doubt many of these have been hanging around for quite some time.
Customers keep the restaurant's online presence fresh and engaging. This is a good thing because the website alone won't get the job done. On the other hand, does the barebones web presence matter? (This is a thought I want to explore.)
The service is consistent, efficient, and attentive. Even on their busiest night, each customer has their server's undivided attention.
You might think that with a crowd of hungry customers waiting to be seated there would be a subtle nudge to push diners along. Not in the least. Even after the meal has been finished and you're lingering over table conversation, no one prowls the dining room nudging you along.
(Menu and a martini images courtesy of La Cantina's Facebook page)
Why Am I Sharing This Story?
First, you simply have to be a little in awe of a local, family-owned restaurant celebrating 76 years.
More importantly, as we enjoyed a slower Wednesday evening dinner last week, I was struck by all La Cantina hasn't done.
The décor, the old-fashioned menu, the unchanging food offerings –all reflect a deep appreciation for their loyal customers.
Could the dining room be fancier? Of course, but that would disrupt the charm.
The small lounge is a throwback to a long lost decade, but it's a time their customers remember.
If you're picturing a dining room full of white heads, repaint your image. It's not unusual to see 2 or more generations sharing the meal. This is a restaurant that is cultivating the next generation of loyal diners.
Somehow the family owners have overcome the temptation to follow whatever trendy things their competitors are doing. Their nod to accepting reservations must have been carefully considered before they committed.
And, yes, the food is excellent every time.
One Final Thought About Business Change
Change gets a lot of attention in the name of relevance, competitiveness, and customer loyalty. All of these are worthy considerations that we have to continually wrap into our strategic planning.
But change needs to serve a purpose that clearly puts loyal customers and clients at the center. Who knows. It just might be that your old-school tablecloth is what your customers gravitate to most often.
La Cantina has stayed true to their customers.
The next time you're feeling pressure to implement an operational change, fiddle with your core services, or head in a new direction just because, ask yourself how your loyal customers and clients will feel.
Thanks for Stopping By on Sunday
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Linda Rolf is a lifelong curious learner who believes a knowledge-first approach builds valuable, lasting client relationships.
She loves discovering the unexpected connections among technology, data, information, people and process. For more than four decades, Linda and Quest Technology Group have been their clients' trusted advisor and strategic partner.