Brands are all about perception. Allow me to tell you a story in three parts about my weekend, that illustrates the point rather neatly.
I flew to Dallas, Texas, to attend a conference of Meeting Professionals International (MPI). I was booked to fly BA out of Heathrow Terminal 5, and I arrived in time to grab some food before boarding the flight. Like all new airport terminals, T5 is more of a fly-by shopping mall, so there is the usual mix of luxury shops and fast food outlets. Last time I passed through, I had a very pleasant huevos ranchos in Giraffe, the eco-friendly world music restaurant. This time, I spotted Gordon Ramsay's Plane Food (Geddit?) so wandered in to sample some fine fast dining, or so I thought. I was shown to a bench seat that stretched past several tables. Alas, a waiter was cleaning the same bench seat two tables down, so I was rocked back and forth for about thirty seconds as he scrubbed the beige vinyl. Not a great start. I ordered eggs Benedict (my regular travelling breakfast, by which I compare restaurants) and black coffee.
The food arrived fairly quickly, and was placed in front of me. I regarded it with suspicion. A large white plate had on it what appeared to be something like eggs Benedict, as conceived by a five-year-old. The base was half of an untoasted, cold, white bap. Several thin slices of cold supermarket ham covered it, with two tiny hard-poached eggs perched on top. The whole thing was covered in a yellow sauce with a darker colour, and different taste, to hollandaise sauce. The taste was unexpectedly bland, and unlike any other eggs Benedict I have ever tried. I ate two bites and gave up. The waiter returned for the "Is everything OK?" question and I reported "No, the food was awful". He replied "How strange, we've served lots of those today". That was it. No apology, no reduction, no concern. I wonder what Gordon would say?
On arrival in Texas, I took a cab to the Hyatt Regency, North Dallas. The service was of a standard I have rarely encountered. The staff were attentive without being overbearing, the food was tasty and healthy, and everything worked perfectly. I couldn't fault it. It was such a pleasure to be relaxed and comfortable.
On the flight home, I was reflecting on the contrast betweem my experiences of the Gordon Ramsay and Hyatt brands. They couldn't have been more different, but the difference was mainly the attitude of the staff. It's often said that service is better in the US because people work for tips. It's much more than that. It's an approach that is regarded as the norm, regardless of whether tips are involved. As I pondered this thought, my in-flight meal arrived. I will spare you the details, but every element was inedible. As the flight attendant collected my uneaten food she said 'I'm sorry about that - we have no control over this". Fair enough. She was doing her best, but the food production and quality control had failed.
So there we are. Three brands; Gordon Ramsay, Hyatt and BA. The Bad, The Good and The Indifferent. It's the small things that matter.