Leisure business consultants

The analogy between a restaurant chain and attraction

The analogy between a restaurant chain and attractions

Originally posted at Blooloop
What can attractions learn from the rise and fall of Dutch restaurant chain La Place?

by Bart DohmenTDAC International

I love using analogies and recently came across a newspaper article about La Place from the Dutch RTL News. This self-service restaurant chain prioritizes fresh ingredients and originated in the Netherlands in 1987. At its peak, it had restaurants in Denmark, Belgium, France, Indonesia, Austria, and Spain and was present in nearly all Google offices in the USA.

The significance of my engagement in reading an article about a restaurant chain for blooloop lies in the analogy it presents. The article reflects many scenarios seen in the attractions industry, portraying a story of passion, achievement, and the difficulties of maintaining them. The narrative of La Place immediately evokes similarities to different attractions and theme parks in our field.

La Place

During the 1980s, department stores were thriving. Many of these stores included a small restaurant as a service to their customers. V&D, in those days a privately owned Dutch department store, wanted to go beyond just having a restaurant. It appointed Dutch food icon Paul Bringmann as the managing director to revamp the restaurants. He transformed the restaurants completely, creating La Place, which offered fresh, generous sandwiches, fruit juices, and other dishes made with fresh ingredients. The restaurants were designed to resemble an outdoor market with a traditional theme. La Place became a huge success thanks to the welcoming staff and the food prepared in front of the guests.

Image credit:
Björn Wylezich – stock.adobe.com

Bringmann’s leadership led to the expansion of La Place into a chain serving over 35 million guests annually.

Preparing food in front of customers and extensive staff training may not seem like the most obvious sources of revenue. However, these practices worked wonderfully: they cultivated trust and loyalty among guests, making them enthusiastic advocates. The director’s dedication, coupled with the guests’ enthusiasm, created a sense of pride among the employees who worked for La Place. This, in turn, increased the overall atmosphere of hospitality, which ultimately contributed to the company’s success.

Going beyond guest expectations

Here, the analogy gets relevant: don’t the best-performing parks and attractions excel under the leadership of managers who recognize that going beyond guest expectations leads to greater success than parks and attractions that operate primarily on a cost basis? And also with parks and attractions that prioritize their employees and invest in thorough training for their staff?

La Place changed hands in 2015 when V&D department stores went bankrupt. A large supermarket chain took over the La Place formula after the departure of La Place’s “godfather”, Paul Bringmann, a few years earlier. The new managers hired by the supermarket chain had backgrounds in retail, fast food and banking and began making changes to make the organization more efficient.

Image credit: Ralf – stock.adobe.com

One of the actions taken was to move the head office and integrate the training centre into their own facilities. Unfortunately, the essence and enthusiasm that once defined the restaurant began to fade. Employees no longer took pride in their restaurants, which led to declining guest satisfaction and the closure of several branches in recent years. Earlier this year, the supermarket chain unexpectedly announced that they were reconsidering their strategic stake in La Place.

As the now 76-year-old Paul Bringmann concluded the article: “The soul is out. To restore that is going to be a hell of a job. If it succeeds at all.”

La Place case study illustrates the importance of passion & soul

Not realizing the importance of exceeding guests’ expectations, excessive control and focus on reducing costs are common practices in the acquisition of attractions and theme parks by investment companies or in second-generation family businesses.

This often leads to the same result as La Place: The soul gets out, creating guests feeling the passion is missing, resulting in declining results. As leisure business consultants, we often encounter this pattern when starting new projects with established operators. They are on the same downward trajectory as La Place, prioritizing efficiency and cost reduction over guest satisfaction.

Fortunately, with the article of La Place, we as leisure business consultants can now illustrate the consequences with a compelling example from a related industry.