Clem Sunter

Privilege, it was a real privilege

2011-11-18 11:55

Clem Sunter

For years I have been banging on about small business differentiating itself through product innovation, value for money and excellence of service. Just accomplishing one of these goals can ensure your survival in hard times; and all three together can make you healthy profits and even allow you to progress to the national and, for some, global stage.

In East London, where I was invited to speak at a breakfast that formed part of the Business Connect 2011 conference and exhibition, I came across all three on the esplanade. I had dinner at a restaurant called La Vida, or to be more exact, in the Tuscan Room of La Vida. I was by myself so I could check the place out at my leisure, having watched Masterchef Australia.

Let’s start with product innovation. I had calamari and chips which is a standard all over South Africa. What was innovative was the way the meal was prepared and set out on the plate. It had the artistry of nouvelle cuisine without scrimping on quantity that is normally the drawback of fine dining. The lemon and garlic sauce, the totally fresh calamari and the non-greasy nature of the chips made a delicious experience.

For a restaurant, the other side of product innovation is the ambience of the place. Of course, if you are perched on the edge of the ocean with a stunning view of the coast, it does help. But what really interested me was the clientele whom I could study as an amateur outsider. They were mostly young professionals with their wives and partners, absorbed in their own conversations and cellphones. The place had a buzz without too much intrusive noise.

In respect of value for money, the meal excluding tip cost me R145 which comprised of a main course, a dessert, two beers (my son introduced me to Carling Black Label when he was at university) and a cappuccino. At the Waterfront in Cape Town, it would have cost over R200. Same in Sandton Square. In Padstow in Cornwall, close to which I recently stayed in October, the Rand equivalent at Rick Stein – the premier restaurant there – would have been more than R500. Yes, you could get a cheaper meal at any of the franchise outlets that make up all the alternative venues on the front in East London. But the phrase "value for money" does not mean cheapest. It means cheap in relation to what is on offer.

The last key for success is the one that so many small businesses fall down on in South Africa – excellence of service. My waitress was a lady called Privilege. I expect swift, friendly service with a smile and that is what I got. Equally, I like someone who knows the menu. In this case, I had not brought my glasses with me so Privilege had to give me an oral rendition of the options available, which she did with charm and gusto. She had to spread her work load between several tables and not once was anyone left waiting for an order or for the dishes to be cleared.

It is wonderful that East London has such a pocket of excellence. Now the municipality must mend the promenade which has obviously been battered by recent storms. They must play a scenario of American visitors going for a jog in the morning and having a pleasant experience. That also entails picking up the litter at 4am so that the place is clean. Meanwhile, Privilege, it was a real privilege meeting you. Keep up the excellence. Ditto the chef. Well done. You may win a TV competition one day.

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