Here’s the first installment of the strategy series: Thai Tom.
Walk by the University Way in Seattle during lunch or dinner hours and it will be really hard to miss a good number of foodies waiting outside a small and dark Thai food joint while the other places have good number of tables empty. That small shabby restaurant with a few tables, an open kitchen and a bunch of counter seats is Thai Tom. Maximum capacity: about 25. Minimum wait time: 25-30 minutes. The normal procedure at this place is to put you on waitlist and ask you to wait outside. 10 minutes later, hand you a wooden slate with menu on it. Another 10 minutes and your order is taken (still on the street outside). Then eventually you get a seat in. People from all around come to this place to have what is arguably (and voted for last three years as) the best Thai food in the city.
Thai Tom’s strategy is clear and crisp: focus on the product. Thai Tom with its cook and three member service crew probably never had a strategy review, but knowingly or unknowingly, formed a perfect strategy: serve the best Thai food in city. Every time I go there, I hear people arguing that if the capacity of this place is doubled, it will still be full all the time. But Thai Tom sticks to its strategy by having just one cook who knows how to cook the dishes with excellence.
How can competition take on Thai Tom? Provide differentiation by excelling where Thai Tom is weak, i.e. focus on service and ambiance of restaurant while serving the best possible food. It is very unlikely that Thai Tom customers will like a competing joint on University Way just for quality of the food, but by having a strategy that focuses on zero wait time, comfortable seating and likable ambiance, they will win some customers who are either in a rush or are not interested to wait outdoors in Seattle rain!