The Dominique Ansel Bakery, London-style, has opened recently not far from where I live. I’d read about Dominique Ansel, as the creator of the “cronut”, a croissant-donut hybrid that took New York by storm a couple of years ago and had lines snaking round the block. I called in on Saturday, on my way home from the bricks-and-mortar necessaries of Christmas shopping.
After ten minutes in what had seemed a fairly short queue and the prospect of another ten minutes or so to go, I was getting tetchy, even with a podcast for company. I started to pay attention to what was happening on both sides of the counter and I realised that I’d been thinking about this “bakery” in completely the wrong way.
I’d seen it as a shop, where the objective is to enter, select items and leave as quickly as possible. Tick in the box; job done; next!
But that’s not what it’s about. Instead, it’s that elusive commodity we hear so much about: the experience.
Queuing (or standing in line, for non-UK readers) is part of that experience. Looking around, I was the only person who seemed to be the least bit irritated at having to wait. Some people were drinking coffee. Others were catching up with friends. Quite a few people were taking photos of the exquisite concoctions on display. The music was a playlist of songs everyone would know and love, but the volume was kept down so people could chat while they waited. For someone born without the patience gene, this was baffling, but intriguing.
I turned my attention to the staff. They seemed to apply the finishing touches to choices – it’s the only time I’ve seen a blowtorch being wielded before something-on-a-stick is handed over to a customer. Nobody rushed. Everything was done with immense care, to the point of two people easing a chilled confection onto a plate. I’m not sure why nobody was smiling, but the cheerfulness was definitely confined to our side of the counter.
And a lot of cheerfulness there was. The group ahead of me went into overdrive as they were finally served, with video clips on phones, accompanying the SLR photoshoot. The chilled display emptied as Owl Religieuse followed Eton Mess Lunchbox, Lime Me Up Tart and Peanut Butter Mousse Cake onto plates and into carefully constructed take-out boxes.
My purchase wasn’t anything as exciting, but that was my mistake and probably my loss. I’d gone to shop; I hadn’t gone for an experience.