A Harvard business professor asks his students to think about elBulli, a fascinating restaurant near Barcelona
To eat at elBulli, customers must navigate a mysterious reservations system. If they are lucky enough to be one of the 8,000 who get a booking that year, they are then given a date and time to show up. Reaching elBulli’s coastal perch involves traveling to Barcelona, then negotiating two hours of narrow, twisting mountain roads. But then they enjoy a five-hour meal of thirty-some completely original, whimsical dishes prepared by AdriÃ and his team of thirty to forty cooks. The meal costs roughly 230 euros and represents hours of laborious research, testing, and preparation. In addition to engaging a diner’s five senses, AdriÃ and his team hope to evoke irony, humor, and even childhood memories with their creations…
Norton asks students to consider the operations and marketing of elBulli. There is much about the restaurant that is inefficient, as MBAs are quick to note: AdriÃ should lower his staff numbers, use cheaper ingredients, improve his supply chain, and increase the restaurant’s hours of operation. But “fixing” elBulli turns it into just another restaurant, says Norton: “The things that make it inefficient are part of what makes it so valuable to people…”
Because AdriÃ [the owner] doesn’t adhere to business norms, the elBulli case shows just how broad the spectrum for marketing a “product” can be–and that’s not a bad thing for MBAs to learn. “Marketing is a science, but it’s also an art,” Norton remarks.
“AdriÃ says he doesn’t listen to customers, yet his customers are some of the most satisfied in the world. That’s an interesting riddle to consider.”
First off, marketing IS NOT A SCIENCE. And art is not marketable, not in the traditional Business School sense anyway. The fact that Adria’s customers are content is not a surprise to anyone that understands how quality works. Norton’s comments strike as either disingenuous or naive.
So MBAs of the world, please look at what Adria is doing and think about what it really means, and use your prodigious talents and influence to fix the bland homogeneity of western consumer culture.