El Bulli, a restaurant of haute cuisine, situated in the town of Roses at the Costa Brava in Spain, was started by Dr. Hans Schilling and his wife Marketta in June 1961, who got their inspiration for the name from their love of bulldogs. In its early years, el Bulli changed from being a mini golf course to a beach bar, settling in to become one of the world’s finest restaurants. Over the years, el Bulli changed Chefs quite frequently, the final one being Ferran Adria, who introduced a different way of cuisine. “He wanted his dishes to provoke, to make people think and feel when eating.” (el Bulli: The Taste of Innovation, Norton et al. 2009).
Adria’s menu consisted of 35 unique dishes, which were served and were to be eaten in an explained way. The venue itself lasted 6 hours. He would only serve 50 guests per evening, and this over a period of only 6 months. Thus, to get a reservation at el Bulli was nearly impossible. Adria greeted each guest personally, who were then guided through the kitchen and then led to the terrace by the staff, where “a swarm of servers surrounded (them)” (el Bulli: The Taste of Innovation, Norton et al. 2009) and offered them snacks and cocktails. Adria’s attitude was clear, he wanted to impress the guests, cost it what it may. This approach clearly comes into context when looking at his expenses. The space el Bulli encompassed was a total of 680 square meters, of which 350 were used for the kitchen only.
Moreover, Adria employed a total of 60 people to serve just 50 guests. The raw materials for his menus were also extremely costly, knowing that “an average of 7000 grams of food per customer (needed) to deliver just 700 grams of final product” (el Bulli: The Taste of Innovation, Norton et al. 2009). One can surely figure out that with such extreme costs, “el Bulli usually fell short of breakeven” (el Bulli: The Taste of Innovation, Norton et al. 2009). His main sources of income therefore were his books and catalogues, a hotel as well as his restaurant chain Fast Good. He himself stated that “what interests (him) above all is cuisine. (He) is not a business creature” (el Bulli: The Taste of Innovation, Norton et al. 2009).
Adria focused more, if not too much, on his cuisine, and his ideas, rather than approaching the problem from a more humane and economic way, which would of course have meant that he would need to cut down or keep his menus, rather than always spending large amounts of money on them, and having no place to accommodate enough guests to make his business run as it should. Service Blueprint First and foremost, to be able to analyze the restaurant’s efficiency using the technique of blueprinting, we need to define it. “Service blueprint gives providers a visual way to express their intentions and goals while linking them to customer’s perceptions and needs as the service activity progresses” (Service Blueprinting: When Customer Satisfaction Numbers are not enough, Spraragan, Chan, 2008).
“Service blueprints are created to visualize all actions which are needed for a service to function, those which are visible to the customer as well as those which aren’t” (Exploring Service Blueprints for Multiple Actors: A Case Study of Car Parking Services, Wreiner et al. 2009). “Blueprint is a valuable way to identify ‘fail points’, or individual places where problems can occur, which enables the practitioner to analyze the problem and formulate corrective measures, or service recovery steps, and insert them into the service system” (Using Service Blueprinting to Analyze Restaurant Service Efficiency, Hummel, Murphy, 2011)
The above quotations point out the most significant aspect of service blueprinting, which visualizes a service in a way, that both producers and consumers are able to have an insight into the service and are able to easily identify and possibly solve the issues resulting from a lack of attention. The elaborated version of Shostack’s service development tool which was created in the early 1980’s, that of Bitner, Ostrom and Morgan (2008) has five clearly defined areas, these being the physical evidence, customer actions, onstage, backstage as well as the support processes. As you can see in Exhibit 1, these areas are separated by certain lines.
The first separation is between the customer action and what happens onstage, this being the line of interaction. This is the step where the consumers and producers of a service come into direct contact. The line of visibility distinguishes what happens onstage from backstage, clearly pointing out what needs to be done backstage to make the onstage actions possible. Usually, this cut is clearly visible, which is though not the case when analyzing the el Bulli restaurant, as we will see later. The line of internal interaction differentiates what has to be done backstage and which support processes are needed to fulfill the task.
At this point, I will analyze the case of el Bulli using service blueprinting, so as to prove that this restaurant is different to others through certain perspectives, as well as to be able to analyze the restaurant’s flaws and giving suggestions with which one could attempt to solve the issues. The first step a guest has to take is of course to call the restaurant and ask if it is possible to make a reservation.
The el Bulli restaurant only has the capacity to serve 50 guests per evening, operates for only six months a year, meaning that they serve only 8000. Taking into account that there are between one and two million demands for a reservation per year makes it clear that one might have to wait years to succeed. If the guest was able to surpass this hurdle, the line of visibility is trespassed, as the restaurant has to book the reservation, needing a reservation system, this in turn crossing the line of internal action. Once the guest arrives at the restaurant, after hours of drive, he has to park his car.
Then we get to the part where the guest enters the restaurant and is greeted by Adria. Here of course the reservation has to be checked, which is part of the backstage work, which requires the support process, here being the reservation system. The next step is the unusual one, as, unlike most restaurants, the guests get guided through the restaurant as well as through the kitchen, making this part of the onstage contact.
Here Adria uses the opportunity to impress the people, showing them the unusual equipment which is used to create the exquisite and extraordinary food. The patrons are then guided to the terrace which overlooks the beach and are served different cocktails and snacks. As we all know, what we need to be able to serve cocktails, is the preparation which takes place in the kitchen, this happening backstage. Subsequently, dinner is served, and the meal takes about 6 hours.
Here, dinner has to be prepared, then served, then eaten, which is shown in the diagram, trespassing both the line of visibility and line of interaction. When dinner is over, the bill is asked for and paid, where the support process is important, in form of the cashier system. After having paid, one leaves the restaurant and the personnel thanks the guests for coming. Here is the last point of interaction.
Observing the whole case from the diner’s point of view, there is no real issue, as he gets a luxurious 35 course meal for a price of only around 230 pounds. The problem here is that the whole restaurant is not at all profitable. First of all, to create Adria’s recipes, one needs “7,000 grams of food per customer to deliver just 700 grams of final product, and nearly 200 ingredients for each menu, resulting in some 1,500 different cocktails, tapas, dishes, and desserts.” (el Bulli: The Taste of Innovation, Norton et al. 2009). This is the first crucial issue. Furthermore, Adria employs 60 people, 30-40 of which are cooks, to serve just 50 guests per evening
. He has a variety of 1,616 different wines, which is also costly for the restaurant. The most critical concern the restaurant has, is that it can only accommodate 50 guests per evening, while demand for a place is much larger. In the end, his restaurant is hardly affordable, as Adria offers too much of a choice, elaborates his meals which makes them extremely costly, and more importantly, he doesn’t have the capabilities of satisfying the demand for places, even if he would want to.
Thus, what one could propose Adria is to either get a credit so as to be able to expand the restaurant or find a new, larger ground on which he can fascinate more guests. Otherwise, he could simplify his menu, offering fewer dishes or making the dishes less complex to create. He could nevertheless keep his status as an extraordinary restaurant owner. The guests could also be charged more for the food, so as to make his food more affordable and get his profit out of this. He could also concentrate more on his other sources of income, being able to expand these. To conclude, Adria’s idea of a sensational and unique restaurant was great, but the realization of it was unrealistic, as the costs were by far larger than the profits made by Adria.
“El Bulli: The Taste of Innovation”, Norton et al., Harvard Business School, March 2009.
“Service Blueprinting: A Practical Technique For Service Innovation”, Bitner et al., California Management Review, Spring 2008.
“Using Service Blueprinting to Analyze Restaurant Service Efficiency”, Hummel, Murphy, Cornell Hospitality Quarterly, July 2011.
“Exploring Service Blueprints for Multiple Actors: A Case Study of Car Parking Services”, Wreiner et al., First Nordic Conference on Service Design and Service Innovation, November 2009.