In praise of inconvenience

What are some of the best restaurants in your town? What sets them apart?

When I think of my hometown, Bangalore, I am reminded of CTR, where I have washed down the world’s best malasa dosas with filter coffee. CTR has just the one branch in Malleshwaram. It barely has 5-6 items on its menu, opens at fixed hours, has fast service with shared seating and sports a no-nonsense air. It is inconvenient to eat at CTR. I need to adhere to its stringent timings, travel to Malleshwaram, struggle to find parking and wait to be seated. And yet, I end up eating there on most of my Bangalore visits.

I am sure that everybody can identify the CTRs of their own town. Most of these places are similar and have one branch. The question of why they do not expand further has often crossed my mind. If anything, the preparation of food is highly process driven. It is as if these restaurants leave money on the table every single day.

But scaling militates against two principles that sets these restaurants apart – inconvenience and scarcity. In order to be convenient, a restaurant needs to standardize, scale up and replicate its operations for the masses – all of which are easy in principle, but dilute quality in practice. Besides, the scarcity of a CTR dosa – the trouble I go through to getting to it – tricks my mind into making it taste better.

Inconvenience and the scarcity are the virtues behind places like CTR. While it is true that inconvenience isn’t scalable, it is a mistake to think of inconvenience as not being viable. Most such restaurants are packed to the brim or have waiting lists that run into several months.

Most importantly, they care enough about the work they do to go through the trouble. Their customers partake in this effort as well by doing their part to co-create this experience. Central to all of this is the virtue of inconvenience that the CTRs of the world have deliberately embraced.

Inspiration: Pizza and Sushi – Akimbo, a podcast by Seth Godin

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