© Ravi Wazir, 2020

The Making of a Legendary Restaurant

To become legendary, both people and things must be remarkable enough in a certain characteristic or skill to stand apart from their peers. Some definitions of legendary even imply that these people or things must become famous (or infamous) enough to be spoken of as folklore... regardless of whether they are still alive or not, in favour or tainted, real or fictional.

Let’s look at a few restaurants that significant groups, either by size or by distinction, consider legendary:

Firstly, is it accurate to consider all these restaurants legendary?

Next, if one were to draw a parallel between legendary restaurants and legendary people for instance, what might legends like Meryl Streep, Sachin Tendulkar and Auguste Escoffier have in common?

To answer these questions, let’s start with who decides whether or not these people and restaurants are legends.

It’s quite straightforward really. All related groups of people who:

  1. Evaluate a brand (person or restaurant) from various perspectives and
  2. Tell its story

...have the right to label someone or something as legendary.

The groups that make up this ecosystem and decide who is legendary are:

  1. The brand’s audiences (in our case restaurant patrons)
  2. Industry technocrats (in our case culinarians)
  3. Industry historians and
  4. The media

Brands these days often tango with groups within this ecosystem. At times, they do this in the hope that they might influence the progress of their brand towards becoming one within that coveted circle. There are instances when a brand attempting to become legendary indeed has the substance to warrant its rise. There are also instances where undeserving brands try and climb this ladder through any means possible. While it is true that “followers” can sometimes be bought these days; it is the collective responsibility of the ecosystem along with the due diligence of its intelligent audience that eventually encourages the truth about the substance of the brand to prevail.

When I hear someone speak about a particular brand with a certain passion and conviction and then hear the same story repeated by several others with equal emotion, then the consistency of it leads me to believe that the claims are quite likely to be true. Further, if and when I experience the brand for myself and discover the same feeling of value, I “know” it to be true. I might then even be inclined to repeat that story to others... thereby propagating the legend. Now I am no longer simply an audience of the brand but an advocator of it, in fact... a fan! I am part of a tribe that not just endorses it but helps it grow, protects it and may even get possessive about it.

How is this achieved deliberately and sustainably?

The answer is through three simple, yet powerful endeavours that you will find in common between all legendary brands:

In the restaurant context, here are some examples of specific practices in a few legendary restaurants, that their owners felt have contributed towards making their eateries legendary:

Examples of Passion

Examples of Dedication

Examples of Resolve

In practical terms, the execution and sustained practise of all these initiatives were exceedingly tough to accomplish. In some way all of them have to do with a shift in mindset... one of the most challenging changes one can attempt in any organization. But then again, nobody said that becoming a legend was easy. Years, possibly decades, of effort towards such initiatives are clearly some of what go into making a legend.

The greatest clue of when a restaurant moves from being an invisible entity, through a partly recognised one and eventually into a legendary one is the transition of the degree of emotional engagement of its viewers. It is during such organizational transformation that one sees some of its audiences gradually becoming more and more hooked onto the brand and eventually becoming its fans.

A restaurant’s fans may not write a letter to a restaurateur in blood as they might to a movie star. They might however demonstrate their love through extreme positive comments when satisfied or extreme negative comments when disappointed. They may even show their faith in the restaurant brand by themselves initiating to undertake a franchise or by volunteering to do things for the brand gratis, like helping it find a new outlet location.

Legends, like everyone else, can also make mistakes, and do so every now and then. When that happens they are often judged more harshly than ordinary brands, since the expectations from them are clearly extraordinary. Humbly accepting this and continually endeavouring towards excellence is what helps the legend in its journey forward. Some legends die because they lapsed in core areas of excellence expected of them. Others die for something that might not even have been directly within the control of the promoters – such as an economic recession.

Either way, legendary restaurants like legendary people become so by standing taller than the rest in their class. They become famous not just by doing great things, but by doing them repeatedly. Fans consider repeated excellence important, since delivering excellence once or even a few times might simply be considered good luck. Consistent excellence however, can only be borne out of consistent deliberate effort. Therefore, people conclude that the brand behind it must be extraordinary and should be acknowledged as such.

“To be successful you have to be selfish, or else you will never achieve. And once you get to your highest level, then you have to be unselfish. Stay reachable. Stay in touch. Don’t isolate.” – Michael Jordan.