Healthy competition

A few nights ago I visited my regular sushi haunt. I hadn’t been there for a while, and my cravings were threatening to undo me if I didn’t oblige them.

Even though there’s a newer, flashier place situated slightly closer to my house, I prefer this nondescript little storefront tucked in the corner of a strip mall. It doesn’t get a lot of recognition, but they get the rice right and the clear soup is the best in town. Besides that, it’s comfortable.

On this visit, I noticed that something was different as soon as I sat down. Actually, there were a lot of things different. Not only did I find myself paging through a new menu, but I also noticed it was full of new items. All my old favorites still beckoned, but new dishes challenged them in every category. Always excited to try new things, I mentally rubbed my hands in delight.

I settled on a combination of the familiar and the yet unexplored: my usual clear soup and green salad, accompanied by a fantasy roll, which sounded absolutely delicious. As the courses started to arrive, I saw that not just the menu had changed. The diminutive, diner-style water glasses had been replaced with honest-to-goodness glass tumblers that didn’t need to be refilled every six minutes. The salad had doubled in size, and it was served on new white dinnerware instead of the usual glass shell. Then came the new roll. Ohhhh, the new roll. More scrumptious than even the description conveyed, it offered a feast for the eyes as well as the palate: artfully arranged on a the same gleaming new dinnerware, encircling a small pot of fire. And mochi for dessert!Be still my heart.

As happy as my belly was when I left the restaurant, something other than the food brought a bigger smile to my face. I saw very clearly that my favorite sushi hidey-hole had significantly stepped up its game, and I was pretty sure I knew why. That newer, flashier sushi place down the street had swooped in and presented a real threat to my fave’s business.

Rather than crossing their fingers and hoping for the best, the owners made some very real improvements to their existing offering. They cleaned up and reprinted their menus. The refreshed the food items and added new dishes that made sense, dishes that were an extension of their offering, not a departure from it. They improved the creature comforts of their dinnerware. And they added mochi! (Clearly, this was the highlight of the experience for me.)

I liked the restaurant before, and I like it even more now, having tacked on a healthy dose of respect for the outstanding effort the owners have put forth in rising to the challenge offered by the new guy down the street. They didn’t offer gimmicks or discounts or otherwise try to buy business. Instead, they watched and learned and made their restaurant fundamentally better.

This, my friends, is the way competition is supposed to work. Don’t race to the bottom to buy loyalty; earn it.

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