Sometimes you do things with all the best intentions and they don’t really work out.
The Smørbrød Experiment
Since opening Baltzersen’s we’ve been very fortunate to be in the position where people have enjoyed what we have had to offer – and we didn’t do too much thinking. The menu was set on day one and just developed into the service we offered for the first 18 months of the business. I think it gave us (me) a false understanding of what customers wanted from their experience at Baltzersen’s.
We bill ourselves as ‘Scandinavian Inspired’, but being only 1/4 Norwegian I have always been conscious of the authenticity factor. Are we sufficiently Scandinavian to live up to our claims?
This is one of the reasons behind our menu change at the start of July. More authentic sandwiches much like the ones you could eat in Oslo or Copenhagen. A second reason was that our menu was leading to long delays in service, especially during peak times on weekends and during the holidays. The third reason was that gradual development of the original menu had lead to an incremental increase in portion size. These portions were unsustainable from a business perspective.
We visited Copenhagen in March and got some ideas. We developed the smørbrød to offer plenty of choice, especially so customers could mix up their sandwiches on the same plate and experience more variety. We sourced 100% sourdough rye bread from our bakers Bondgate Bakery – a very healthy loaf made with just 3 ingredients (rye flour, water and salt). Now I think back nobody really asked us to do any of this (apart from the odd irate Norwegian visitor who felt we weren’t sufficiently Norwegian), but I felt it was the right thing to do and I thought the sandwiches looked and tasted great.
Some customers have enjoyed the change, but certainly the most vocal feedback we’ve had is negative. Some of the criticism is fair enough and we expected it as par for the course. I have been surprised at some quite nasty complaints – especially a couple accusing me of cashing in and making the change for profits.
This business is so personal. Many of the people that work at Baltzersen’s have been here long-term and care deeply about what they do. It’s a huge asset and integral to the feel of the place, so it’s been tough to see them taking it in the neck for decisions that I have made.
That people have become so irate with us for changing the menu is in some ways a compliment. It shows they care and feel some ownership of the menu; perhaps it shouldn’t have been ours to mess about with. I certainly feel chastened and will consult much more widely before doing anything so radical again.
I think I now realize that what people come to Baltzersen’s for is a friendly and relaxed place where they get good service, quality ingredients and leave satisfied in terms of hunger and impact on the wallet. Nobody really cares that much about the Scandinavian thing – it’s a nice point of difference but it isn’t the deal breaker……and I think I am now more comfortable with that.
The New Autumn Menu
The experience hasn’t been a complete disaster. The new options we added to breakfast have been incredibly popular so we are adding even more dishes to that offer and extending the service until noon every day. We’d like to become your ‘go-to’ place for brunch.
Meatballs have been on the menu since day one and are inextricably linked with Scandinavia. We will be offering them as a hot meal served with mash, gravy and lingonberry – they’re available all over Scandinavia in this form so why try and change the formula. There will be a vegetarian hot dish and also soup on the new Autumn menu.
One of the things that has been drilled home to us on the back of opening the restaurant is that people with special dietary requirements need to be looked after. We will therefore try to be more inclusive by making sure there is something for vegetarians and vegans and continue to offer a gluten-free option in terms of bread.
Whilst completing a business course this year I rewrote the mission for our business, it reads:
‘Scandinavian-inspired food to excite, comfort and sustain.’
After the last two months I am now clear that Baltzersen’s exists to fulfil the last two elements of that mission with our newer restaurant service ‘Norse‘ covering the ‘excite’ part.
I will say that we will always be looking to try new things to improve what we do. We are human and sometimes we won’t get things right. I take solace in that even the big boys get it wrong sometimes (I read the ‘New Coke‘ story about the failed attempt to change the coke recipe in 1985 with some interest) but I believe good things can come from these kinds of experiences.
We have a lot of catching up to do. We’ve tumbled down the Tripadvisor* rankings and irritated some previously regular customers. Hopefully the new menu will get us back on track and help mend some damaged bridges.
*positive Tripadvisor reviews very welcome about new Autumn menu!
You can see the draft Autumn menu ready for the launch on Friday 29th August here.